The Americans With Disabilities Act Is Turning 25. Watch the Dramatic Protest That Made It Happen.

Eight-year-old Jennifer Keelan, left, crawls up the steps of the Capitol in Washington on March 12, 1990.Jeff Markowitz/AP

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Twenty-five years ago this weekend, the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law, officially outlawing discrimination against disabled people in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and government services. The law was a long time coming: Activists had fought for decades against unequal access to jobs and exclusion from public schools. But the ADA might never have gotten to President George H.W. Bush’s desk were it not for a group of activists in wheelchairs who took matters into their own hands earlier that year.

On March 12, 1990, hundreds of people with disabilities gathered at the foot of the Capitol building in Washington to protest the bill’s slow movement through Congress. Dozens left behind their wheelchairs, got down on their hands and knees, and began pulling themselves slowly up the 83 steps toward the building’s west entrance, as if daring the politicians inside to continue ignoring all the barriers they faced. Among the climbers was Jennifer Keelan, an eight-year-old from Denver with cerebral palsy. “I’ll take all night if I have to!” she yelled while dragging herself higher and higher.

Here’s some footage of the protest, via PBS’s Independent Lens:

The Capitol Crawl, as it became known, made national headlines and pushed lawmakers to pass the ADA into law. When Bush finally signed the landmark bill, it was seen as one of the country’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation to date. But it was not a total cure-all, according to Susan Parish, a professor of disability policy at Brandeis University. The Supreme Court later watered it down, she says, in a series of decisions that created a narrow definition of disability.

In 2008, lawmakers passed amendments to strengthen the ADA, but Parish says people with disabilities have still struggled to gain equal access to employment, in part because employers are expected to comply with the law but do not have to follow reporting requirements. “I feel that the country needs a full-scale affirmative action program for people with disabilities,” she said in a recent interview.

President Obama issued an executive order in 2010 requiring the federal government to hire more people with disabilities. In a speech earlier this week, he said the West Wing receptionist, Leah Katz-Hernandez, is the first deaf American to hold her position. But despite some progress since 1990, he acknowledged, “We’ve still got to do more to make sure that people with disabilities are paid fairly for their labor, to make sure they are safe in their homes and their communities…I don’t have to tell you this fight is not over.”

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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