Thoughts on the 30th Anniversary of the Passing of the Americans with Disability Act

Tom Haig, IRF Communications Director

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the passing of the Americanís with Disabilities Act. It was ground-breaking legislation that has since been copied in dozens of countries around the globe. Its passage, and more importantly its implementation (lots of countries have passed similar legislation, few have given it the administrative authority to implement it), has assured me that the obstacles that thwarted my predecessors in the disability community, cannot continue to hinder me.

Since a bicycle accident in 1996 left me in a chair, Iíve been able to meet some of my predecessors in the disability community who I now call heroes. Iíve gotten to work with Olympic gold medalists Dr. Cheri Blauwet and Candace Cable. I sat in on a dias with biomechanical wizard and inventor of the modern racing chair, Dr. Rory Cooper. And I actually got to be an extra in the film, The Music Within, documenting fellow Portlander Richard Pimentel who, more than anyone, was responsible for the ADA becoming law.

These people and countess others worked tirelessly just to make my day much more livable. But meeting them didnít leave me star-struck. It was a call to action. There is still much ignorance towards disability in the world which leads to millions of lives being unnecessarily ruined. The ADA was my call to duty to go out in the world and document their struggles. Thatís where I met the most incredible heroes of all. People who have broken down impossible doors with literally no support from their governments.

In Albania I met Judo Olympian, now quadriplegic Anton Skhoda who built his own gym and now trains able-bodied champion athletes. In Ghana I met the late Isaac Tuggen who struggled for years to get the Ghanaians with Disability Act passed Ė and financed, making it one of the strongest disability laws in the world. In India I met the late Javed Abidi, paraplegic and founder of Disabled Persons International - as well as the writer of the Indianís with Disability Act. In Bangladesh I met Nepalese physician, Dr. Raju Dhakal who cares for hundreds of spinal cord patients from the seat of his own wheelchair. And in Senegal I met Abdou Ndao whose body is riddled with disease to the point he can no longer use his legs or arms. Yet he still proves to be the most eloquent journalist on the subject in his country.

The struggle in poor countries continues, but the ADA stands out as a beacon of possibility. Because of the ADA's power in the United States, disability communities in the world know that improvement is not only possible, but with proper exposure to their plight, it is inevitable.

(Tom Haig is a cum laude graduate of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. He has filmed documentary shorts on disability communities in Albania, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, France, Ghana, India, Nepal and Senegal. For more information go to


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