Many of the people benefiting from the Americans with Disabilities Act today don’t even remember the struggles those with disabilities had before the law took effect 29 years ago.

Shari Coatney, CEO of Southeast Kansas Independent Living, pointed out that fact during a community celebration Friday in downtown Parsons on the anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s signing of the ADA.

The younger generations don’t remember a time when curb cuts were lacking or when it was difficult for people relying on wheelchairs to do simple things such as paying a city utility bill, Coatney said.

“Learn from this. The struggles were real, and the rights that you have today that you take for granted because that’s just the way it is, your brothers and sisters who are older than you fought for those rights,” Coatney said. 

It was a big battle to get to the point where people with disabilities were treated equally as others, she said.

“We have done it, and now we are celebrating every year. Every year we celebrate our equal rights,” Coatney said.

Kansas state Sen. Dan Goddard and Rep. Richard Proehl, both of Parsons, were among those attending the celebration that included free hot dogs, popcorn and ice cream, water inflatables for kids, live musical entertainment by Duke Mason and drawings.

Coatney said Goddard is a big supporter of the disability community’s efforts. He takes the time to listen to concerns and represents SKIL well in Topeka.

“It’s just really nice having a senator who gets it,” Coatney said.

Goddard said the Kansas Legislature did “good things with the budget” and that SKIL should benefit from it in the future.

He also praised SKIL, calling the organization and its workers “tremendous.”

“Everybody in this town and surrounding community ought to come up and thank these people for what they do,” Goddard said.

As she often does, Coatney urged the crowd to register to vote if they haven’t and then vote so that the disabled community has representatives who know their wants and needs and value what they value.

“We just want to be like everybody else,” Coatney said. “We are a voting bloc that needs to be reckoned with.”

Coatney said Proehl usually agrees with SKIL’s stances and pushes for the needs for people with disabilities. He also has been part of an effort to get Medicaid expanded in Kansas to cover more people. Proehl said the Legislature will try again to expand Medicaid.

Proehl also said the disabled community has made great strides but still has a way to go.

“We’re going to support you. You are equal. You do deserve it, and I’m here to fight for you. I want you know that,” Proehl said.

While celebrating ADA, Coatney said there was another reason to celebrate Friday. For years, SKIL and others have fought to get the protected income level for people with disabilities who receive state assistance increased. The effort fell short, but with a change in administration, they decided to try again, and this time they succeeded.

“That means you get to keep more of your money,” Coatney told the crowd. “That’s a victory.”

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