The Making of the ADA – Week Two

Memories from the 10th Anniversary

The Disability Rights Leadership Series

Week Two:
Senator Tom Harkin, Arlene Mayerson (Part 1 of 2), and Pat Wright


Pat Wright

What was your proudest moment?

Wright: ​
“I think the passage in the Senate…Senator Kennedy called me out and we went for a walk…and then we came back and they cast the final vote. And​ …I think it really was kind of this realization that it actually was happening…I think I wasn’t sure that ever in my lifetime I would see civil rights for people with disabilities.”

Arlene Mayerson

“The ADA, when you look at its history, didn’t start in ’89 or ’88 when it was first introduced, but really started much further back. It really started with the advent of a disability rights movement and disability rights issues becoming part of the national dialogue. And more specifically, in the ’80s…the work of the disability rights community in Washington, in several key pieces of legislation, which enabled the disability community to show its stuff, to show that it had political savvy…had the ability to politically organize. It had the ability to negotiate at high levels. It had its legal staff in order and to be able to really have a visibility and a credibility on the Hill.”

Senator Tom Harkin

“Well, I have said the passage of it [the ADA] is the highlight of my legislative career…To me, it represents one of the two or three major things that I have ever done in my entire lifetime.”

As the country approaches the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we pause for a moment to take stock of the impact the ADA has had on our lives and our communities over the past quarter century and to recognize both the sung and the unsung heroes who worked tirelessly to make the dream of full civil rights for people with disabilities a legal reality.

In an effort to capture the day–to–day memories of some of those who witnessed and influenced this extraordinary historic event, the University of San Francisco and the video production company, Access Video, collaborated with DREDF during 1999 and 2000 to interview some of the people who were central to the law’s passage.

Just as no one person, group, or organization can represent the vast diversity that comprises “people with disabilities,” this project could not adequately credit everyone who worked to make the vision of the ADA a reality. The voices preserved in this small collection are few in number. They are the voices of those who were privileged to be in power, or who had access to those in power. We want to share them because they bear witness to how our communities’ landmark civil rights law was fought for in our nation’s capital, in rooms that were reached by literal – not figurative — “halls of power.”

There were, and are, many other stories about people and moments in time that we need to preserve if we are to have a more complete history of the disability civil rights movement, and a deeper understanding of our present and future. As the 15–year gap between filming and release attests, we’re fortunate that technology and social media have made story–telling infinitely more accessible and diverse.

Copies of the unedited interview collection reside in the Disability Rights and Independent Living Movement (DRILM) collection at the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, as well as with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF).

We wish to extend our deep appreciation to the volunteers who donated their time to edit and caption this archival material.