The Road to Freedom is an ongoing bus journey featuring exhibits on disability history and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The tour highlighted the work of social documentarian Tom Olin and included a photographic history leading up to passage of the ADA, as well as a history of the ADA written by Arlene Mayerson.

The goal was to spread awareness to the press and the public of the challenges of people with disabilities. On our first launch, the brightly wrapped bus stopped in all 50 states. In addition, they showcased personal testimonials and a display of disability rights history in the U.S. It was organized by the coalition of disability, civil rights, and social justice organizations with support from business leaders and policymakers.

The organizers of The Road to Freedom uncovered evidence of steady unemployment rates and poverty among people with disabilities. They realized the historic fight for disability rights was not over. The rights they thought were secured proved to need continued support. As a means of letting America know about this injustice, the bus journey was accompanied by a promise. The promise is to gain press coverage to inspire America to take action and share the compelling history of disability rights to ensure equal access to healthcare, transportation, education, employment, and more.

The Clinton Presidential Library. Asilver building with tons of windows
Image: Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

A particularly memorable stop took place at the Bill Clinton Library. The governor and local organizer attending were grateful for the media coverage they had previously struggled to obtain. “This was a monumental event for us,”said Billy Altom, executive director of the Delta Resource Center for Independent Living in Arkansas, after the Road To Freedom bus stop at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock. “The message of civil rights for people with disabilities went out all over the state! The governor was there! Every newspaper and TV station was there! And we had disability advocates from every major group in the state!”


Three woman wearing black wearing microphones
image: Ysaye Maria Barnwell and Sweet Honey in The Rock perform at the Disability Rights Concert outside of Washington, DC.

The ADA celebrated its 15th anniversary with a concert at the Music Center at Strathmore in Bethesda, Maryland. The event, organized in support of the Road to Freedom Campaign, featured a keynote speech by U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen. The concert was broadcast by Comcast, which also aired interviews of disability rights leaders. In addition, the event included performances by Laura Dodd, Bruce Hornsby, and Sweet Honey and The Rock, as well as a display of Tom Olins’ photographic history of the fight for disability rights. The event’s media coverage helped raise awareness about the issue of discrimination against people with disabilities, who make up over 54 million Americans. Watch the full video here.

The Road to Freedom bus tour returned to Washington D.C. on November 15, 2007, for a celebration and senate hearing on the ADA Restoration Act of 2007. Advocates for disability rights traveled over 25,000 miles by bus, making over 100 stops in a year. In celebration, the group was thanked on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The event was attended by Senator Harkin and other supporters. A hearing was held for ADA restoration of 2007 and featured speeches by the representatives of various disabilities, civil rights, and social justice organizations.

The Americans with Disabilities Act Restoration Act of 2007 was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 25, 2007, with strong bipartisan support by a vote of 402 to 17. The bill, introduced by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Rep. James Sensenbrenner, clarifies the definition of disability and reverses several Supreme Court rulings that disability advocates claim have left some people with disabilities unprotected. The bill was supported by Rep. George Miller, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, who stated that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of a disability.

Two men shaking hands in stage in front of the Road to Freedom bus. One man holds an award
Image: Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe presents Arkansas Traveler award to ADA Watch’s Jim Ward

ADA Watch/NCDR founder and president, Jim Ward stated today, “This is a monumental victory for people with disabilities. As America seeks to respond to the economic challenges we face, this law – if enforced – will ensure that people with disabilities are fairly included in the workforce and that we can do our jobs free from discrimination.” Jim Ward dedicated two years of his and his family’s lives to The Road to Freedom campaign. The dedication and sacrifices cannot be overlooked as this monumental change took momental sacrifice. 

The ADA laws have proven valuable for all Americans, not just Americans with disabilities. Jim Wards states “ sidewalk ramps help cyclists and strollers! Automatic doors help those with their hands full.” A reminder to all Americans of the importance of disability rights. As the campaign falls further in the past the CDRJ hopes The Road to Freedom will inspire the new generations to continue to be active in the campaign for disability rights. Stay informed and active in local and international campaigns to stand up for justice. 

The Clinton Presidential Library. Asilver building with tons of windows
The Clinton Presidential Library. Asilver building with tons of windows

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