Every year the Arizona Disability Advocacy Coalition invites the disability community to celebrate the Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at the Ability360 Center. Ability360 is a co-host of the event. We celebrate community advocates who stand together to fight for disability rights, justice and equal access. We gather to honor the intent of the ADA which mandates an end to discrimination against persons with disabilities, allowing people full participation and opportunities.

On this 24th Anniversary of the ADA we watched the DVD, “The Great Fight for Disability Rights”. This film features some of our most important heroes from Judy Heumann to Justin Dart Jr. People with disabilities marched in the streets, held demonstrations, and advocated to Congress for equality. During the film, passionate advocates in the audience cheered and clapped as the film’s activists with disabilities demonstrated and fought for civil rights that affects and benefits all of us.

Theatre360 sang and danced to several rousing and uplifting songs. ITC is a troupe of Ability360 sponsored artists dedicated to the personal, social, and political voices of people with disabilities. One song in particular, Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”, inspired the audience to get up and clap to the rhythm. They danced, sang, and used American Sign Language to express “Happiness” to the crowd.

Each year at this event, we celebrate our local heroes who support the ADA though the presentation of Arizona Disability Advocacy Coalition (AZDAC) Liberty ADA Awards. Recipients are nominated by their peers in the community, and an AzDAC committee selects the award winners. State Representative Stefanie Mach and Representative Kate Brophy McGee, who each sponsored bills that broke barriers and improved the lives of Arizonans with disabilities, were among seven honorees receiving 2014 Liberty Awards.

Representative Mach (D-District 10, Tucson) led the effort for passage of HB2667 requiring the use of the term “persons with disabilities” in all Arizona state laws, rules, regulations and signage. The law replaces terms “disabled, handicap, handicapped or handicapping” other than when used as part of a proper name. Representative Mach, who received the 2014 ADA Liberty Copper Canyon Public Policy Pioneer Award, was injured in a car accident in her teens, which left her with life-altering injuries. She shared her believe in personal power and encourage the crowd to believe in themselves and advocate for what was important to them.

Representative Brophy McGee (R-District 28, Phoenix) received the 2014 Liberty Copper Canyon Public Policy Award for sponsoring two bills benefiting Arizonans receiving services from the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). HB2240 restored consumer contributions to group home expenses to the pre-recession rate of 70 percent from 88 percent. The change allows DDD customers to retain more personal income to encourage and facilitate their participation in the community. HB2241, which did not pass into law, would have restored DDD Trust Fund money that had been swept into the state’s General Fund during the recession’s early years.

Other award recipients are:
•    ADA Liberty Title III Public Accommodations Arts Accessibility Award: Frank Hernandez, a longtime volunteer for Arts for All, Inc. in Tucson. He uses music to enrich the lives of children and adults with and without disabilities to learn through the arts.

•    ADA Liberty Community Accessibility Pioneer Advocate Award: Melissa Yingst Huber of Scottsdale, a counselor working with deaf students, executive producer and anchor on the Deaf and Hearing Network and longtime volunteer for the Professional Deaf Women’s Organization.

•    ADA Liberty Community Accessibility Advocate Award: Anthony O’Clair of Tempe, who manages the medical equipment loan closet at Arizona Paralyzed Veterans of America with skill and compassion helping those in need to get wheelchairs and other devices that support their independence.

•    ADA Liberty Title IV Telecommunications Pioneer Award: AT&T, which provides accessible, reliable and convenient telephone communications for Arizonans with hearing and communication disabilities through the Arizona Relay Service.

•    ADA Liberty Title I Employment Advocate Award: Tim Stump of Phoenix, an employment services coordinator for the Rehabilitation Services Administration with the State of Arizona.