SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — It was just 30 years ago when then President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990. The ADA is a civil rights law. It’s important because it prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places. The purpose of the law is to make sure people with different abilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. We’ve come along way, but local advocates say we have a lot of work to do.
Has this ever been you? You’re driving, trying to find a parking spot, and then you see an empty space underneath a familiar blue sign with a white wheelchair symbol? And, as you pull into the spot and look around to make sure no one is watching, you vow you will be quick.
“A lot of people think it’s just five minutes,” Tana Zwart said.
That parking spot and those five minutes mean a lot to Tana Zwart.
“It’s not just a luxury we have. It’s a necessity. It means whenever we’re getting out of the car, getting to where we need to go or not, just five minutes in that spot matters,” Zwart said.
That’s why you will see Zwart on another sign for the same spot, designated as a handicap spot. It reads, “Think of me, keep it free.”
“I often see you on the accessible sign. That’s so cool,” Zwart said.
It’s part of a campaign from the Disability Awareness Commission that began about a year ago. Zwart says, in that time, she believes the signs are making a difference.
“It’s really getting people aware,” Zwart said.
Though she’s a little uncomfortable with the sudden fame, she wants to use her own story to help others notice and consider all people with different abilities.
“I see it all the time. All over, still, where there are people still parked there that don’t have the sign on their car and they just — I don’t think they really realize what they’re taking away from somebody,” Zwart said.
Zwart has a condition known as facioscalpo muscular dystrophy, which is defined as a muscle weakness and wasting disorder. She’s a well-known advocate for her peers. Zwart along with many others are observing this week because it marks the 30 year anniversary of the ADA.
“I was in kindergarten when the act was signed, so not long before that, there was not a lot of opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Their lives were very isolated and so to think if I would’ve grown up a decade earlier and not have those opportunities is crazy to think about,” Zwart said.
Equal rights can include little things most of us don’t even think about, such as parking spots and even wheelchair ramps on sidewalks and buildings.
It’s really a basic need and a basic right that members of the disability community have to be able to get into a store and place of business,” Erin Hill said.
Erin Hill with the Muscular Dystrophy Association says the ADA has done a lot, but we still have a lot of work to do.
“These are things we need to just look around us, say, are we doing the bare minimum? Is that enough? Is there more we can do for our friends and neighbors who need more accessibility?” Hill said.
“It’s really time to celebrate that and how far we’ve come, but also recognize how we can build upon it and continue to make things better,” Zwart said.
Which brings us back to you and that empty space under a blue sign, or the sign Zwart.
Sure, you’ll only be five minutes. Perhaps you’ll realize someone else is worth more than a quick parking spot, and then you’ll drive away and leave it for someone who needs it.
“If they can park somewhere else, they should, because they can get out of the car easily,” Zwart said.