Philly celebrates 20th anniversary of Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans With Disabilities Act has triggered many changes in the last 20 years, but there's still a long way to go, a top official of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development said in a speech Monday at Independence Mall.

"You have to say, 'We want to be able to choose the life that everybody has,' " Estelle Richman, HUD's chief operating officer, told those gathered to celebrate the law's anniversary.

The federal law, signed on July 26, 1990, brought sweeping change in many areas. It bans discrimination against the disabled in hiring, requires that employers accommodate them, and requires that they have access to buildings, jobs, and equipment.

Richman, a former head of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, held a variety of city posts, including managing director and health commissioner. She and others emphasized the need for independent living to replace institutions.

"I, too, have a dream, Dr. King," said Linda Anthony, policy director of the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, about the idea of children with disabilities learning side by side with children without disabilities.

"We are celebrating the blood and sweat shed for our Declaration of Independence through the ADA," said Anthony, sitting in her wheelchair while dressed as the Statue of Liberty.

Thirty-nine organizations that work with the disabled and support the advancement of civil rights for them provided information and handouts to visitors at tents outside the visitor center at Sixth and Market Streets.

Providing entertainment was the Flame, a New York-based band from the Fulton County Association for Retarded Citizens. The 11 members, who are developmentally and physically disabled, sang and performed on guitar, drums, piano, and tambourines.

Contact staff writer Nicole Lockley at 215-854-5626 or