Happy 30th Anniversary ADA - Interview with Jennifer Keelin-Chaffins about the ”Capitol Crawl”

Hi everyone! Welcome back to the blog, today we are doing things just a bit different than usual. If you have been following the blog for any amount of time you know we usually interview one of our fabulous designers. However, today is a special day! In honor of the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we at PattiandRicky.com are going to share with you an amazing interview with a lady trailblazer who was VERY instrumental in the passing of this one of a kind bill into law. Her name is Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins she has Cerebral Palsy, and she was a mere 8 years of age when she did the “Capitol Crawl", in hopes of getting the ADA passed and made into law. She was the youngest person to climb the steps of the U.S. Capitol that day.

Jennifer at 8 years old, lifted herself out of her wheelchair and climbed the steps of the U.S. Capitol in support of the ADA

If you are a person with a disability then you know The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed 30 years ago by President George H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990, and that the ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. Sounds like common sense, right? Individuals with disabilities shouldn’t face discrimination, there’s no justification for it. However, getting the bill passed turned out to be an uphill battle, or should I say, upstairs.


On March 12, 1990,” Capitol Crawl”, Jennifer was determined to take her battle All the Way To The Top. Her goal was to be a voice for children with disabilities and to fight for those who couldn’t. On what was said to be one of the hottest days in March, disability rights activists congregated outside the United States Capitol to peacefully demand passage of the ADA. Over 1000 people were in attendance to show their support for the bill.


At the end of the rally, 60 activists including 8-year-old Jennifer, abandoned their wheelchairs, crutches, and other mobility devices and crawled up the steps of the capitol building in a demonstration of not only their convictions but also to highlight the daily struggles people with disabilities face due to a lack of inclusivity. While crawling they chanted, phrases like “What do we want?” “ADA!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!", and “The people united will never be defeated.” Jennifer's voice rang loud 30 years ago for individuals with disabilities, her screams for equality, inclusion, and education for all can still be heard today. She is still just as passionate, strong, and driven as she was on that momentous occasion. Jennifer says “I refuse to let the ADA fade out!” “Jennifer still dedicates her life to advocating for Americans with disabilities. Today, she engages on two major fronts in the battle for equality; education around disability and accessibility, and political activism to affect change.”

Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, activist, educator, and speaker

As we enter a new decade, there is cause to reflect on the accomplishments of the disability rights movement. The Americans with Disabilities Act created significant change by addressing barriers, both structural and attitudinal. When acknowledging the impact of the ADA, it’s necessary to examine the effort made to get this law passed. As we celebrate 30 years of the ADA, I find it unequivocally important to remember that disability rights are human rights!


To me personally, the ADA represents a shining example of our ability to come together as fellow humans and make a change for the collective good. Creating a society in which everyone has an opportunity to thrive by acknowledging and removing barriers is crucial to the well-being of everyone, not just those currently living with a disability. We at Patti and Ricky encourage everyone to remember the ADA today and every day celebrate it! Learn from the great advocates like Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins who came before you and or paved the way to your freedom and independence. The education you receive will be ever so valuable. BE GRATEFUL! I know I am.

Last week I got the amazing opportunity to chat with Jennifer and her mother Cynthia Keelan about all things advocacy and ADA related and oh what an education I received It was such a wonderful quality interview what was supposed to be a quick 20-minute interview quickly evolved into a 3-hour conversation that I would not trade for anything in the entire world. It was such a gift for me as an advocate to get to chat with such an empowered female trailblazer, honestly, it reignited my fire for self-advocacy and advocating for others who live with a disability. Check out the absolutely amazing interview below with Jennifer Keelin-Chaffins, you Will NOT REGRET DOING SO!

You were 8 years old when you climbed the steps of the capital to demand change, equal rights, inclusion, and much more with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Can you reflect back a bit and tell the readers and me a bit about that experience as a whole?

Jennifer at her first disability rights protest in Phoenix, Arizona

“By the time I did the “Capitol Crawl” I was already what you might call a seasoned activist and had already experienced discrimination from personal experiences of being denied access due to my disability. I started my activism for disability rights at age 6 when I did my first protest in Phoenix Arizona. Before the Capitol Crawl, I had participated in protests that involved demanding lifts on public buses, that demanded amendments to the Fair Housing Act, which was amended in 1988 to specifically recognize housing rights for people with disabilities and families and with children; protests that demanded the enforcement of Section 504 of the Rehab Act and IDEA and the Architectural and Air Carriers Act. These are all laws that existed prior to the passage of the ADA. These existing laws and the enforcement and recognition of these laws were through nationwide protests and were the inspiration for the need for the ADA and the urgency to get it passed into law. The ADA was meant to strengthen and add enforcement to the existing laws.” “I think that the most exciting part for me about the Capitol Crawl was the fact that this was a very important part of disability history and I was determined to make sure that the voices of children with disabilities were going to heard and that the ADA was an important civil rights law that once passed, would be important to not just my generation but future generations of kids with disabilities as well”. “When disability rights supporters found out that Congress was stalling the passage of the ADA, disability rights groups organized to go to Washington DC with one unified voice to do a rally and protest to show Congress why it was important to pass the ADA without delay. There were speakers from all over the country, representing different disability rights organizations and groups as well as representatives of congress”. “For an eight-year-old, with a physical disability and who had already experienced discrimination, this was a very exciting and important event!”


We all know just how groundbreaking the Americans with Disabilities Act really was 30 years ago for individuals who live with disabilities. There is no doubt it has come a long way within those 30 years as well. However, what changes or additions do you think need to be made (if any) to better suit the type of society we live in today?

"I don’t believe that we need to make any changes or additions to the ADA. The ADA is a civil rights law. While there may appear to be more wheelchair access ramps, and blue buttons on doors, handicapped parking, closed captioning in public arenas, and braille panels in elevators, new construction, and repairs of existing structures are purposely opting out of accessibility features, unemployment, poverty, denial of healthcare and a lack of accessible affordable housing, denial of accommodations are all still prevalent issues for people with disabilities. There are many important parts of the ADA that still lack enforcement. The law cannot completely stop discrimination, but we can- and we need to understand that just because we have the ADA, the work of ending discrimination has never gone away. The ADA is also about personal empowerment and our ability to make it work. We all have a responsibility to as my business motto says: “educate, advocate, empower.”

There are so many wonderful kids growing up with a variety of different disabilities learning that they can do and already doing great things for both the communities they live in and even the world as advocates, Knowing this what advice would you give a young child who has that same desire to make powerful lasting change?

Jennifer at the "Capitol Crawl" on March 12, 1990 - Jeff Markowitz/AP

“I would advise children to keep using their voices to speak up and make a change. Part of the presentations that I and the book author did for school-aged children for our book All the Way to the Top", encouraged children to be actively involved in identifying discrimination and speaking up about it. The children loved being involved as “activists” and doing protest chants but also learned to identify situations of discrimination. They equated those situations to being the same as Bullying. It was rewarding to see them make that connection.”


In doing my research I found out you wrote the forward for the children’s book called All the Way to the Top: How One Girl's Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything that recounts that momentous day you had as a child can you please tell our readers what writing that meant to you, also can you talk about what you would like children and parents to take away from the book after reading it?

“ I wrote the forward to the book. The book was written by Annette Bay Pimental, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali and published by Source Books. I was so pleased when Annette contacted me with her idea to write about the Capitol Crawl. Up until this point, the event and my participation had been represented in photos or by other participants’ accounts of the event. It was the first time anyone had approached me and asked how I felt about the event. Annette and I worked very closely for three years on the project and she and Nabi through his illustrations and from pictures I had provided to him, were able to capture my eight-year-old voice and persona as well as create a story that could be used as an educational tool about a real and historical event about people with disabilities.”


All of us have at least one person who we see as an inspiration, who is that for you and why?

“Growing up as a child who was fortunate to be a part of the disability civil rights movement, I was constantly surrounded by mentors and teachers, so it is hard to pinpoint just one-all of them were the leaders of the movement- and deserve recognition- Diane Coleman, Bob Kafka, Wade Blank, Tom Olin, Judy Heumann- they all played a very important role in my life – but the person who stands out at the top would be Justin Dart Jr., the Father of the ADA”.

ADAPT activists, including Jennifer, protest the inaccessibility of public transportation in San Francisco, CA in 1987

Photography by Jeff Reinking. Pictured from left: Justin Dart Jr., Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, and her mother Cynthia Keelan, Bob Kafka, and Dianne Coleman. These incredible people, pictured above, became mentors and teachers for Jennifer in life and throughout her participation in the disability rights movement.


You are a trailblazing lady advocate no question about that but when you're not out breaking barriers and helping to get laws passed for the disability community, what is your favorite thing to wear? Can you describe your personal style?

“I would describe my personal style as eclectic. I have a significant collection of western boots from many years of working for the stock show, not practical for me to wear but lovely with designer blue jeans- my daily go-to. I love to add a flair of Asian inspiration with antique and modern kimonos and love stylish blouses and dresses but they are not always easy to wear while using complex rehab technology.”

Adaptive Fashion much like the ADA. has evolved over the past 30 years so much so that companies like Patti and Ricky are making a name for themselves, as a result, the task of daily dressing has become easier for those of us with who live with disabilities. That being said what are your personal thoughts on what is now being called the “Adaptive Fashion Movement”?

“I think it is awesome and the recognition of Adaptive Fashion should be a part of mainstream media, in advertisement and adaptive fashion should be available on every department store shelf!”

Anyone who lives with a disability knows that it isn’t always easy so we are always looking for ways to make it that much easier, do you have any “hacks” you use fashion-related or otherwise that you use daily to help make life easier?

“Designer socks that accommodate Ankle foot orthotics (AFO’s) and have mild compression- must be fun and sassy but practical for adults and should also be appealing for kids and encourage them to want to wear and show off leg braces!”

What is your favorite quote: "My favorite chant is “The People United Will Never Be Defeated!”


Today as we commemorate the 30th anniversary the Americans with Disabilities Act, all of us here at Patti and Ricky, The Adaptive Fashion Marketplace would like to take a minute to thank the legendary Jennifer Keelin-Chaffins and all the other hard-working advocates who did their individual part to help get this groundbreaking law passed all those years ago. We salute you and your efforts. Without you, true independence for all would not be possible! Happy 30th Birthday ADA! Cheers to many, many more!

For more information about Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins please visit her website: jkclegacy.com.


We want to hear from you! Tell us in the comment section below tell us how are you celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Remember to please subscribe to our newsletter and connect with us on our social media platforms. Be sure to visit PattiandRicky.com to see all the new functional and stylish adaptive products we have available!

Until next month,

STAY EMPOWERED!

Shannon & the Patti + Ricky Team


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