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ADA celebration: 20 years of progress
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Americans with Disabilities Act celebration

What: Live music, children’s activities and other performances
When: 6-10 p.m. Saturday
Where: Field of Dreams, Alberta Banks Park, 5575 Jim Crow Road, Flowery Branch
How much: Free; barbecue for sale
Contact: 770-534-6656 or www.disabilityresourcecenter.org

Twenty years ago, the U.S. Congress took a major step toward ensuring equality with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The act, which was signed into law July 26, 1990, guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities “in public accommodations, facilities, employment, transportation, government services and telecommunication.”

“A lot of the barriers to employment and other things in the community have been removed because of the (ADA),” said Sarah Beth Fede, advocacy and transition facilitator for the Disability Resource Center in Gainesville. “But more than that, it has done a lot to change perceptions about people with disabilities.”

The act has raised awareness about those with disabilities and shown they are just as capable as everyone else, Fede said. To commemorate the 20th anniversary, the resource center has planned a celebration for Saturday at the Field of Dreams in Flowery Branch.

“It’s going to be a big birthday party of sorts,” said Nancy Peeples, disability center resource specialist. “There will be a free concert, cake and all types of children’s activities. ... We’re trying to raise awareness about the changes that have been made over the last 20 years because of the act, but we also want to make the public more aware about what still needs to be done.”

The celebration is open to the community and will be accessible for all.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 54 million Americans have a disability — of those people, 13.3 million use a wheelchair or some type of walking aid. Another 2.8 million are blind or deaf.

Public accommodations are still an area where some changes need to be made, the center’s staff say.

The Field of Dreams — a sports arena designed specifically for people with disabilities — offers a great place to host an ADA celebration, but center staff said other venue options are limited.

“Field of Dreams is great because it’s very accessible — we want people with disabilities to be included in mainstream society,” said Bob McGarry, resource center executive director. “But (while searching for a location) we only had the choice of about three venues in Hall County that were fully accessible. It would have been nice to find more options.”

While limited accessibility was an issue for planning, center staff hope more doors open in the future.

“Because of what we’ve gone through to find a location, hopefully it has given the folks involved a true taste of what they need to do to be more accessible to people with disabilities,” Peeples said. “Life, liberty and access for all — that’s the ultimate message of our celebration.”

While most facilities may have handicap accessible parking, bathrooms and seating, there are other barriers to accessibility — things like signs without braille for visually impaired visitors or misplaced displays.

“If you live long enough, 1 out of 5 of us will get a disability — a 20 percent chance of having a disability later in life — those are pretty good odds,” said McGarry, who is visually impaired. “I obtained my disability when I was 32; I hated to think there was anything to deny me access at that young of an age.

“There’s a lot of work out there that needs to be done, but the (ADA) gave us teeth to get things started.”

Regional events