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Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest US Minority Its Rights

Enabling Acts: The Hidden Story of How the Americans with Disabilities Act Gave the Largest US Minority Its Rights

by Lennard J. Davis


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A behind-the-scenes account of the passing of the ADA—the moment when millions of Americans won their civil rights

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the widest-ranging and most comprehensive piece of civil rights legislation ever passed in the United States, and it has become the model for disability-based laws around the world. Yet the surprising story behind how the bill came to be is little known.

In this riveting account, acclaimed disability scholar Lennard J. Davis delivers the first on-the-ground narrative of how a band of leftist Berkeley hippies managed to make an alliance with upper-crust, conservative Republicans to bring about a truly bipartisan bill. Based on extensive interviews with all the major players involved including legislators and activists, Davis recreates the dramatic tension of a story that is anything but a dry account of bills and speeches. Rather, it’s filled with one indefatigable character after another, culminating in explosive moments when the hidden army of the disability community stages scenes like the iconic “Capitol Crawl” or an event when students stormed Gallaudet University demanding a “Deaf President Now!”

From inside the offices of newly formed disability groups to secret breakfast meetings surreptitiously held outside the White House grounds, here we meet countless unsung characters, including political heavyweights and disability advocates on the front lines. “You want to fight?” an angered Ted Kennedy would shout in an upstairs room at the Capitol while negotiating the final details of the ADA. Congressman Tony Coelho, whose parents once thought him to be possessed by the devil because of his epilepsy, later became the bill’s primary sponsor. There’s Justin Dart, adorned in disability power buttons and his signature cowboy hat, who took to the road canvassing 50 states, and people like Patrisha Wright, also known as “The General,” Arlene Myerson or “the brains,” “architect” Bob Funk, and visionary Mary Lou Breslin, who left the hippie highlands of the West to pursue equal rights in the marble halls of DC.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807059296
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 06/07/2016
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 910,689
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

An award-winning author of eleven books, including My Sense of Silence, Lennard J. Davis is Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts in the departments of Disability Studies and English at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He has written for the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Nation, and Chronicle of Higher Education, among other publications. He lives in New York City.

Table of Contents

Author’s Note

Prologue: July 28, 1989

Forty-Six Words That Changed History

DC Outsiders Turn Washington Insiders

The Texas Connection

Let Right Be Done

Banging the Drum Loudly

Flat Earth, Deaf World

A New Band of Reformers

A New Day, a New ADA

White House Battles Senate

Secret Meetings and Bagel Breakfasts

“This Means War!”

Building the Access Ramp to the House of Representatives

The Capitol Crawl

On the White House Lawn

Enabling the ADA


Cast of Characters

Bibliographical Note



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