Disabled still have to fight for rights 20 years later

On a rain-swept 1989 day, Linda Dezenski marched a mile and “clinged to the White House fence with both hands, scared to death I was going to be arrested.” That she has cerebral palsy made the effort taxing. But her efforts helped spur Pres. George Bush to support the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) the next year.

“I still go places when it seems people aren’t comfortable dealing with me,” said Dezenski, chief operating officer of non-profit advocacy group Liberty Resources, who uses crutches for mobility. “But we’re feeling more like part of the mainstream.”

Philadelphia, which hosts an ADA anniversary rally today, has played a focal disabled-rights role. In the 90s, a federal lawsuit heard here resulted in curb cuts nationwide, said Liberty CEO Stephen Earle.

“The disabled are still very marginalized,” Earle said. “It’s benign ignorance, not necessarily malice. We tend to see the cup as half-full.”

The battle continues, however, on many fronts. SEPTA and the Disabled Rights Network of Pennsylvania are still fighting over City Hall and 15th and Market subway-stop accessibility. SEPTA appealed a U.S. District Court finding that they should have included elevators when making alterations. Arguments are scheduled Oct. 5.

“It’s unacceptable that the center of Philadelphia government and the busiest station are still not wheelchair-accessible 20 years after the ADA,” said wheelchair-bound Rocco Iacullo, an attorney working with “Godfather of the ADA” Stephen Gold on the case. “There are still a lot of barriers left to break down.”

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