The ‘Stunt’ That Helped Pass a Barrier-Breaking Law

In 1990, a group of activists and legislators fighting for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) gathered on the steps of the Capitol to make a statement. Writing for Curbed about the act’s 1990 passage and its impacts over the last quarter century, Patrick Sisson details how the group dramatized the difficulties faced by people with disabilities using the 82 stone steps that lead to the United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.:

On March 12, the Capitol Crawl, organized by ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit), gathered a crowd of hundreds of chanting supporters at the entrance of the country’s legislature. They watched 60 activists drop their canes or leave their wheelchairs and pull themselves up each of those steps. Dozens strained at the task, as friends and family offered them water and encouragement. Cameras focused on eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan, who had cerebral palsy. She made her way up, hands-to-knees. At one point, she told the dozens of reporters focused on her that “I’ll take all night if I have to!”

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The “stunt,” as a handful of annoyed senators called it, proved to be an important turning point in the battle for the ADA. But more importantly, it dramatized the difficulties that the built environment poses for people with disabilities, who make up nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population. Wright, who herself was blind, wanted others to see how much design can change a person’s everyday actions and level of independence, and how poor design can create a form of what she called “second-class citizenship.”

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