Ric Edwards - ADA Interview
This was not just a thing that was going to affect us,” Ric Edwards recalls, “it was going to affect our kids and our kids' kids, and many generations to follow.” The work to win support in Indiana for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) felt like an awe-inspiring responsibility, he shares. Many years prior to the advent of the ADA in 1990, Ric had broken his neck in a car accident. He faced classes at an inaccessible public high school in his home town of Spencer, Indiana. Ric’s father made sure that the school took daily responsibility for carrying him up and down staircases. That was in 1970. In this 2009 interview, Ric reflects on the extent to which accessibility has improved since the advent of the ADA, activities in Indiana prior to its adoption into law, and the significant barriers for people with disabilities remaining. In 2009, Ric was director of Safety and ADA Compliance for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, as well as chairperson of the ADA-Indiana Steering Committee, the entity responsible for promoting implementation of the ADA across the state.
Ric talks about getting to know Justin Dart Jr. when Dart visited the state to rally support for the landmark legislation, and relates a humorous anecdote about meeting him for the first time. Ric describes the statewide hearings regarding the ADA, where Dart’s presence drew policy makers and other individuals of influence. The “movers and shakers” heard directly from Hoosiers with disabilities concerning obstacles and discrimination they were encountering. Dart’s example led Ric to recognize the importance of being “at the table,” not just to communicate, but to actually “become those people that are making the changes and the decisions."
Ric credits some of the other people in Indiana who were instrumental in laying the groundwork for the ADA, in some instances well before the legislation was proposed: Jim and Frieda Pauley, Norton Brown, Sharon Byrkett, Nancy Griffin, Costa Miller, Christine Dahlberg, and Suellen Jackson-Bonner. In the pre-digital communication era, people got organized through telephone calls, conferences, and word of mouth. “I can remember licking a lot of stamps and doing a lot of envelope stuffing."
As the twentieth anniversary of the ADA approached, Ric acknowledged the work remaining. “Everybody is struggling with employment. It's much more significant for people with disabilities just because you've got the additional barriers that employers have towards people with disabilities. They don't understand many times what people with disabilities can do.”
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