Disabilities Act marks 20th year

ALBANY, Ga. -- Roughly 56 million Americans, or 19 percent of the population, live with some sort of disability according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Debbie McDonald is one of the them.

In fact, when the sun rises today -- the 20th anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act -- McDonald, a visually impaired amputee and organ recipient, will join other supporters of the bill at City Hall to remember the day that people with disabilities edged closer to going from "them" to "us," in the minds of the American people.

"Oh, well of course I believe that the passage of the bill changed the lives of people living with disabilities for the better," McDonald said. "The world has changed a lot since 1990 and we are closer than ever to showing the world that, despite our disabilities, we can be productive members of society."

McDonald is the director and founder of Limb Support, a non-profit support and advocacy group for amputees. She helps those who have to undergo amputation deal with the emotional and physical hardships that accompany the surgery.

Additionally, McDonald is the first vice president of the Southwest Georgia Chapter of the National Federation of the Blind, and assists the visually impaired find work, have social and meaningful lives.

Since its passage, the ADA has helped serve as the foundation for protecting those with disabilities from discrimination and harassment and has opened the door to opportunities that many Americans often take for granted, McDonald said.

The world has become more aware of the capabilities of those with disabilities. Under President Barack Obama's administration, the United States has joined 140 other countries in joining the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, passed the Chris and Dana Reeves Paralysis Act, funded ADA education efforts through the Stimulus bill and lifted the ban on stem cell research.

In a speech kicking off the White House's celebration of the anniversary of the passage of the bill, Valerie Jarrett, a senior advisor to Obama, described how the bill has benefited millions of Americans since its passage.

"The ADA was a landmark civil rights legislation. It was a bill of rights for persons with disabilities, a formal acknowledgment that Americans with disabilities are Americans first and that they're entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everybody else," Jarrett said.

But despite the progress, McDonald says that there are still challenges, work and awareness that needs to be had about people with disabilities.

"We've come far, but there is always more to do," McDonald said. "I've worked with the city and code enforcement to make sure that businesses are in compliance and that we can work towards being barrier-free."

The Mayor's office will issue a proclamation at 10 a.m. today downtown at the Government Center recognizing the contributions of those with disabilities to our community and the 20th anniversary of the ADA, city officials say.