Celebrating the Past, Working for the Future – Austin Daily Herald

Celebrating the Past, Working for the Future – Austin Daily Herald

We celebrate the past, we work for the future

Posted 17:51 on Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Caravan for Freedom and Justice for People with Disabilities Stops in Austin

Aaron DeVries has been a proud supporter of his wheelchair-bound daughter for years, which is why he is actively involved in helping to increase the visibility of people with disabilities in the field of accessibility.

So when the opportunity arose to bring the Caravan for Disability Freedom and Justice to Austin, he seized it. The caravan, which advocates for people with disabilities, arrived in the city Wednesday afternoon and is part of a months-long advocacy tour that began in San Diego in April and will end in New York in October.

“I have a daughter who is 22 and uses a wheelchair,” DeVries said. “I have been involved in accessibility issues her entire life.”

“I asked them to stop by the city, spread the word and keep talking,” he added, explaining that he saw them driving in that direction from Des Moines, Iowa, which prompted them to send the request.

Overall, the tour itself is an opportunity to celebrate past successes that have allowed people with disabilities to be better included in the communities in which they lived.

However, this document also commemorates one particularly important piece of legislation.

“The Disability Caravan is really an opportunity to look back in the fight for disability rights, but also look forward,” said C.W. Tillman, who led that part of the caravan. “Promoting the 25th anniversary of the Olmstead decision. That allowed people who were living in institutions to come back into the community with community-based support.”

In June 1999, in Olmstead v. LC, the Supreme Court held that unjustified segregation of people with disabilities constitutes discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case was brought by two women with mental illnesses and developmental disabilities, Lois Curtis and Elaine Wilson. Both were voluntarily admitted to the state-run George Regional Hospital, but when they were deemed ready to move to a community-based program, both women remained confined to the facility for years.

Part of that support for people with disabilities in the community is making sure that people in the community can go places that anyone else can go. DeVries learned that firsthand with his daughter.

“It’s just a little thing that you don’t notice when you can just step off (the curb),” he said. “For me, as a father of a disabled daughter, it’s just being able to show up and not have to do anything extra.”

DeVries has been an advocate for accessibility for people with disabilities for years. He founded the website The Inclusive Dad and has given two TedX talks on the issue. He also started a podcast where he talks about topics like accessibility.

His actions are in line with the goals that Caravan wants to achieve during its tour around the country.

“We really hope that the public becomes more aware of the ongoing struggles with accessibility,” Tillman said.

Austin Public Schools Executive Director of Special Services Sheri Willrodt joined the stop Wednesday. She said things like the Caravan are a good way to continue important conversations for people with disabilities.

“As a school district, we always support the least restrictive environment and people who have access to those same types of facilities,” she said. “It’s great to see this kind of movement across the country, promoting these types of rights for people with disabilities.”

But there are still challenges, especially outside of Austin Public Schools, and supporting Caravan is about supporting the community.

“I think it’s about access and inclusion,” Willrodt said. “They want to be able to spend time with other people their own age and do enriching activities, and by promoting access, we can provide those activities for kids.”