#TBT: Remembering the Capitol Crawl Rally That Convinced Congress to Pass the ADA

Today we’re used to seeing ramps and retrofitting in public spaces to allow accessibility, and it’s taken for granted that employers can’t discriminate against those with disabilities. But these protections were not always present for the disabled community.

It wasn’t until the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990 that individuals were legally protected against discrimination based on disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and public and private places that are open to the general public. Naturally, the passing of the ADA was a huge victory for civil rights. And this week marks the 26th anniversary of the Capitol Crawl, a noted event that helped convince congress to pass the law.

When legislation was first introduced in the late 1980s, there was widespread support. But after it passed the Senate in 1989, the legislation stalled out in House committees. Frustrated by the delays, over 1,000 activists decided to gather for a rally at the U.S. Capitol on March 12, 1990, to implore congress to pass the law. As Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) said to the crowd:

What we did for civil rights in the ‘60s, we forgot to do for people with disabilities.

In addition to expressing their support at the rally, 60 activists chose to make an even bolder statement by crawling all 100 of the U.S. Capitol steps to show how much accessibility—and inclusion in all areas of life—was needed. The image was powerful, particularly because of Jennifer Keelan, an 8-year-old girl with cerebral palsy, who struggled up the steps with determination and shouted, “I’ll take all night if I have to!”

A group of handicapped people led by 8-year-old Jennifer Keelan, left, crawl up the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 12, 1990, to draw support for a key bill now pending in the House that would extend civil rights to disabled persons. The group of about 1,000 people or rode in wheelchairs down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol. (AP Photo/Jeff Markowitz)

8-year-old Jennifer Keelan, left, crawls up the steps of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, March 12, 1990. (AP Photo/Jeff Markowitz)

The rally was effective, as the law was successfully passed that year. It has since become even more inclusive with the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which broadened the definition of disability.

In honor of the anniversary, take a look at this powerful footage of the Capitol Crawl. (Warning: It might bring on the waterworks.)

And here, a now-grown Keelan recounts the event.

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