You are always losing until you win!

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Leah Smith

ADAPT was born out of the struggle to get disabled people out of nursing homes and into a community setting, where they could control their own lives and make basic choices for themselves about how they wanted to live. In 1974, the Rev. Wade Bank launched a mini-rebellion by creating The Atlantis Community as a self-directed alternative for residents of a Denver nursing home. A few years later, realizing that they had stumbled upon non-violent direct action tactics that were effective in Denver and could be used elsewhere to force the issue of accessible buses into the public eye, ADAPT was founded as American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit and quickly went national. More than a decade’s worth of non-violent “skirmishes,” lawsuits, and legislative advocacy resulted in a mandate for bus lifts and ramps in every city in the U.S. being included in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This did not happen overnight or even after a few friendly phone calls or letters to your congress person. This was the result of consistent and persistent struggle in almost every major city in the U.S., both in the streets and in the courts. Often, it must have felt like there were more setbacks and frustrations than victories in the war for freedom of movement. That’s the thing about social movements: you are always losing until you win.

In 1990, after the ADA made bus lifts and ramps the law of the land, ADAPT returned to its roots and refocused its energy on an even bigger issue: the institutional bias. I have written about the institutional bias before, but in case you’ve forgotten: this is what we call the bias in federal funding toward warehousing disabled and elderly people in institutions like nursing homes rather than providing that same needed assistance in their own homes. The idea is that the federal funding that goes to help disabled folks get out of bed and dressed, could go toward providing this same help in the community where they can control their own lives. For this crusade to bring the promise of the ADA to people needing this kind of assistance, ADAPT even rebranded itself as Americans Disabled for Attendant Programs Today.

Currently, nearly 26 years after the signing of the ADA, ADAPT only goes by their acronym, but as recently as this week, they were in Washington D.C. in yet another non-violent scuffle, resulting in hundreds of arrests for civil disobedience in the name of ending the institutional bias. The most current legislation that ADAPT is pushing for is the Disability Integration Act, which attempts to build or improve upon previous failures or partial victories like MiCASSA (Medicade Community Attendant Services and Supports Act), the Olmsted court decision, the Community Choice Act, and the Community First Choice Option.

Like the fight for accessible busses, ending the institutional bias has taken patience and relentless commitment. The scale of the problem is larger, its moving pieces are more complex, and its stakes are even higher. This means the disability movement has faced and will continue to face even more setbacks than it ever has. Luckily, groups like ADAPT continue to be up to the challenge, literally putting their bodies on the line. With this commitment, it’s only a matter of time until we get another big victory and the institutional bias is swept into the history books along with the bus steps. Let’s remember the words of a great civil rights leader from a related movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

In other words, you are always losing until you win! Free Our People!
Contact: Leah Smith