Last week, our country celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the ADA was a hard-fought battle by activists and advocates from across a wide range of disabilities. This civil rights movement has evolved over decades, with milestones from the deinstitutionalization of people with disabilities warehoused away from their families, to people of differing abilities being able to live, learn, work, and recreate in their communities today.
Thanks to the vision and advocacy of passionate families in the early days yearning for a good life for their loved ones – and to the leadership, tenacity, courage, and collaborative efforts of people with differing abilities across the country demanding their basic human rights – the landscape has changed dramatically in terms of accessibility in many forms and functions.
Another leader in the accessibility advocacy movement has been Wilderness Inquiry, ahead of its time with a vision and commitment to the belief that “everyone belongs in the outdoors.” Wilderness Inquiry was founded in 1978 when Greg Lais, Paul Schurke, and Bill Simpson took their vision of accessibility into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area to prove that anyone can and should have the opportunity to experience wilderness in its most natural state. By bringing people of all abilities together to canoe, portage, and camp, it became clear how interdependent we are as human beings and how impactful a shared experience in the wilderness can be with a diverse group of campers. We showed that all people can and should have access to the great outdoors.
Today, Wilderness Inquiry continues to break barriers to outdoor accessibility. This ranges from youth who are deaf and hard of hearing paddling the Charles River in Boston to a person who uses a wheelchair meeting the mountain gorillas in Uganda! Wilderness Inquiry opened new paths into the outdoors for people of all abilities on our first trip in 1978 and we continue to blaze trails today. Last year, over 41,000 people connected to the natural world through our shared outdoor experiences.
Margaret Mead’s wise words hold true for the seeds that were planted by visionaries for the Americans with Disabilities Act and Wilderness Inquiry. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Hearty thanks to all the passionate disability rights advocates as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ADA – onward!
Kim Keprios, Executive Director