On Monday, March 12, 1990 disability rights activists descended on the U.S. Capitol demanding the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which would give equal rights to people with disabilities. The ADA was passed by the Senate the year before but was finding complications getting through the House of Representatives.
Over 1,000 protesters came from 30 states to protest the Act’s delay. More than 60 activists abandoned their wheelchairs and mobility devices and began crawling the 83 stone steps up to the U.S. Capitol Building, loudly chanting “What do we want?” “ADA!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!”
Jennifer Keelan, an eight-year-old with cerebral palsy, was famously taped while crawling up the stairs. “I’ll take all night if I have to,” she said. Her friend, Kenny Perkins, had recently passed away. As Jennifer reached the top she stated, “I’m doing it for Kenny.”
Michael Winters, a leader in the Independent Living Movement, later wrote about event. “Some people may have thought that it was undignified for people in wheelchairs to crawl in that manner, but I felt that it was necessary to show the country what kinds of things people with disabilities have to face on a day-to-day basis,” Winters recalled. “We had to be willing to fight for what we believed in.”
The bravery of those in the Capitol Crawl showed America how people in wheelchairs and those with mobility barriers face difficult challenges because of things that many take for granted, such as accessible public buildings and homes (see campaign poster, right).
In July, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, prohibiting discrimination against anyone who has a mental or physical disability, guaranteeing the civil rights of people with disabilities.
Senator Tom Harkin, who had authored and introduced the ADA to the Senate, later said, “In the words of one activist, this landmark law is about securing for people with disabilities the most fundamental of rights: ‘the right to live in the world.'”