Al Tolbert - ADA Interview
“Back in the '80s, we didn't think about the Independent Living movement being a civil rights thing.” With the introduction of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) legislation prior to its passage in 1990, says Al Tolbert, “the Independent Living movement became more or less a civil rights movement.” Al was a longtime executive director for Southern Indiana Center for Independent Living when he was interviewed in 2009. He was also a board member of the Indiana Statewide Independent Living Council, and president of Paralyzed Hoosiers Veterans at that time. He is a past national director for Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA). In this interview, he talks about the Independent Living movement and his involvement with advancement of the ADA both nationally and in Indiana. He also discusses issues faced by veterans with disabilities in the context of his work with veterans organizations and his personal experience as a veteran with paraplegia since 1971.
Al traveled to Washington, D.C. with Paralyzed Veterans of America representatives several times to lobby for the ADA . Al points out that “Justin Dart said there would be no ADA without PVA.” (Justin Dart Jr. is known as the “father of the ADA.”) In Indiana, there was animosity to the proposed legislation from some quarters. Many people didn’t take it seriously, he recalls, or didn’t see a need for it. Al was based in the town of Bedford. “I remember the chamber of commerce was not in favor of it. We were getting a lot of mail telling us that this is going to put people out of work; it's going to be a hindrance for small business.”
Al relates his own experience as a veteran who didn’t have assistance to deal with his newly acquired disability. Decades later, he believes the military could do a better job providing information to service members with disabilities before their discharge. The message they receive is ”You've served, just go on home and we won't worry about you,” he says.
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