NCDHHS Celebrates the ADA’s 30th Anniversary with a Virtual Celebration

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Sunday, July 27, marked the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was enacted with the promise of full and equal access to civic, economic and social life for Americans with disabilities. North Carolina and 300 participants celebrated this milestone on Thursday, July 23, with a virtual ADA 30th Anniversary Celebration to honor the progress of the last three decades while recognizing the ongoing efforts by self-advocates with disabilities and allies to achieve equal access and full inclusion in community life.

The celebration included the sharing of many stories from those with lived experience on what the ADA means to them, several statements from state leaders, including Governor Cooper, on how we can continue to realize the promises of the ADA, and two internationally known keynote speakers sharing on how race and disability intersect and how to live boundless in the freedoms given by the ADA.

The ADA has helped hundreds of thousands of the 1.3 million North Carolinians (approximately 13% of the state’s population) with disabilities go to school, participate in the political process, live independently in their communities and enter the workforce to pursue a better future for themselves and their families. Of those, more than 720,000 are of working age, but only 35% are employed, compared to 76% of North Carolinians without disabilities. In recent years, a tight labor market, advances in technology and increased focus on the value of a diverse, inclusive workforce have contributed to more opportunities for career employment and fair wages for people with disabilities.

Deputy Secretary for Human Services Tara Myers noted during the celebration last week that 2020 also marks North Carolina’s one-year anniversary as an Employment First state and the 100th anniversary year of the public vocational rehabilitation program — both of which have their foundation in the ADA.

Deputy Secretary Meyers also shared Governor Roy Cooper’s proclamation marking July 26 as Americans with Disabilities Act Day in North Carolina, and Office of State Human Resources Director Barbara Gibson announced the launch of the state employee disability status self-disclosure tool, allowing state employees to share their disability status in the Beacon portal in an effort to help the state be a model employer of persons with disabilities in the state.

The event hosted two keynote speakers – Madeline Delp and Emeke Nnaka. Delp is Ms. Wheelchair USA 2017 and the executive director of Live Boundless. She inspired everyone with her personal stories of trial and triumph and encouraged those with disabilities to continue to live bravely and without limits letting nothing stand in their way. “I want you to face things that scare you,” Delp said on talking about living boundlessly.

Naaka, a former standout for the Oklahoma Thunder semi-professional football team, is an advocate and a motivational speaker. He shared his personal story of acquiring and adjusting to a disability, the intersection of disability and race in America, and how it takes all of us to continue the work begun by the passage of the ADA 30 years ago. “We are all affected,” said Nnaka, talking about disability as the largest growing minority group in America.

Philip Woodward of the NC Council on Developmental Disabilities hosted the event, which was moved to a virtual conference due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Woodward engaged the audience with Q&A sessions and shared a collection of 30 for 30 ADA stories gathered with the assistance of NC ADA Network from people with disabilities and their family members, which gave inspirational and motivational statements from varied guests with lived experience highlighted from across North Carolina. He also shared from his own experiences as a state government employee who is hard of hearing. 

The celebration concluded with a call to action given by Victor Armstrong, Director of the DHHS Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse, calling on us all to remember that the ADA speaks to human rights and that we all can be a part of its fulfillment by advocating, employing universal design and rendering care and respect to all.

This event was a collaborative effort by the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Council on Developmental Disabilities and the Office of State Human Resources, and was supported with sign language interpreters and captioning by the Division of Services for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

You can watch a recording of the virtual summit here. The password is A*Ev42L8. More information on employment services for people with disabilities can be found here.