Throughout our state’s history, Texans with disabilities have played an outsized role in making Texas the greatest state in our nation to live, work and raise a family. Demonstrating the remarkable qualities of the Texas spirit – courage, independence and ingenuity – Texans have filled some of our highest offices, fought in historic battles and contributed to the art and culture of our state.
Each October is designated Persons with Disabilities History and Awareness Month in Texas. The state’s observance was enacted by the 82nd Texas Legislature with the passage of House Bill 3616. This law encourages public schools and state agencies to celebrate the accomplishments of people with disabilities. The intent is to increase public awareness of the many achievements of people with disabilities, to encourage public understanding of the disability rights movement, and to reaffirm the local, state, and federal commitment to providing equality and inclusion for people with disabilities.
In Governor Abbott’s 2017 Proclamation, he encourages all Texans to learn more about the achievements of Texans with disabilities who have contributed so much to our society and about the disability rights movement as it takes its rightful place as part of the story of Texas. There is no better place to learn about the story of Texas and Texans with disabilities role in our state’s rich history than the University of Texas at Arlington. This month the UT Arlington is exhibiting their accessible campuses history collection on the ground floor rotunda of the Capitol Building.
According to Dr. Sarah Rose with UT Arlington’s Disability Histories Minor Studies Program, people with disabilities make up about twenty percent of the population of the United States and worldwide: one of the largest minorities. Yet their history—and their fight for full civil rights and equal opportunity—is just beginning to be told.
As is often the case, Texans have played a prominent role, especially in the disability rights movement that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. “Godfather of the ADA” Justin W. Dart, Jr. crisscrossed the country during the 1980s, talking with ordinary Americans with disabilities about the barriers they faced. As executive director of the National Council on Disability, “Architect of the ADA” Lex Frieden guided the drafting of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Bob Kafka of ADAPT of Texas, in turn, organized grassroots protests crucial to raising legislators’ awareness about longstanding, systemic barriers.
For those seeking to learn—or teach—more, one could hardly do better than explore the thousands of virtual artifacts and teaching tools available at the online Disability History Museum (http://www.disabilitymuseum.
Closer to home, University of Texas at Arlington’s new Texas Disability History Collection websitehttp://library.uta.edu/
GCPD’s Executive Director Ron Lucey remarked, “This year we are proud to partner with the University of Texas at Arlington to support additions to their disability history collection through gathering informational interviews with prominent Texans who shaped the disability rights movement of the 20th and 21st centuries. The next chapter in the story of Texas is still being written. Working at the Office of the Governor I’m reminded by historic images in our building and through our current interactions with leaders in the disability rights movement that Texans with disabilities make meaningful contributions that continue to shape the future direction of our great nation.”