The Denver Public Library Western History/Genealogy Department is honored to be nominated in this year's Colorado's 10 Most Significant Artifacts Campaign. Each year, 10 artifacts are chosen by the public to celebrate the diverse history of Colorado.
Our entry this year celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Did you know that the organization responsible for spearheading the equal access for people with disabilities movement originated right here in Denver, Colorado?
American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit or ADAPT —a grassroots community dedicated to non-violent disability rights activism—was founded by Reverend Wade Blank in 1983. Blank came to Colorado in 1971 to work in a nursing home and soon envisioned a way for people with disabilities to live independently. He created the Atlantis Community in 1975. In July 1978, members of Atlantis staged a protest against Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) on the corner of Colfax and Broadway. Their chants of “We will ride” began a disability rights movement in Colorado that grew to be nationwide. A plaque commemorating this protest can be found on the corner of Colfax and Broadway.
The flier we have nominated invites “wheelchair users from every state whose dream is a totally accessible bus system” to take a stand against the American Public Transit Association during their national convention held in Denver in October 1983. The flier described the protests as a “chance to demand our right to board every public bus in the nation” and encouraged picketing, rallies, demonstrations, and “wild parties” to disrupt the conference, which was attended by Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole, Vice President George Bush, and Presidential Candidate Gary Hart.
This artifact is representative of a series of protests that ADAPT organized in their fight to make public transportation accessible to all. ADAPT members blocked buses with their wheelchairs, picketed transportation conventions, and held sit-ins at government and corporate offices. Their civil disobedience tactics often lead to members being arrested and taken to jails unequipped for wheelchairs. Without these protests, lifts on buses, sidewalk curb cuts, and ramps in public places would not be required as they are today under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Please help support our nomination and VOTE HERE. The top 10 artifacts will be announced in December. If you would like more information about the disability rights movement please check out the Wade and Molly Blank papers.
Thanks for this. Thought I'd share this related email I sent RTD this morning. They are far from perfect, sometimes need laws to force them into action, but your post has me reflecting on our progress as a society:
"I would like to commend the driver for her assistance of a passenger in a wheelchair. Despite having cut curbs and the like, this is a heavy traffic area and not friendly to wheelchairs. In fact, it’s pretty dangers to everyone. The driver stopped deliberately in a place that was safest and most convenient for the passenger, quickly and efficiently lowered the ramp and undid the straps, etc., all with a gentle kindness and care I found quite touching. So did the passenger--she kept saying, "wow, thank you so much. Wow, I didn't expect this. Wow." The driver’s simple reply was “Of course, see you tomorrow.” To paraphrase a wonderful poem, these are the best portions of our lives—our small, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness, and of love.
I find this particularly poignant as we are celebrating this year the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And, I was recently reading a piece from the Denver Public Library (https://history.denverlibrary.org/news/2015-colorados-10-most-significant-artifacts-vote-now) regarding how the American Disabled for Accessible Public Transit (ADAPT) community protested the American Public Transit Association during their national convention held in Denver in October of 1983. This helped lead to the ADA and the very lift this passenger used this morning. But the driver took it one more step. She showed far more than compliance with the law—she showed an embrace of its spirit. Kudos to her, and to RTD, for helping us come so far in this respect. There’s always more work to do, but with drivers like this I know we can continue building a more just, inclusive, and equitable society.
This is another reason why I ride RTD. The usual reasons of health, the environment, keeping my transportation costs low, all apply to me. But with wonderful drivers like this, public transportation can build community, a sense of mutual respect, and foster human kindness."
Public libraries, public transportation--what wonderful things.