Civil Rights Summit adds speaker to address citizens with disabilities

Adam Hamze

After the National Council on Disability released a statement Friday addressing the lack of a panel on disabilities in the upcoming Civil Rights Summit, Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library and Museum, announced Monday that a speaker is being added to the “Social Justice in the 21st Century” panel to address discrimination against citizens with disabilities.

Speaking at a press briefing, Updegrove said the Civil Rights Summit will now include Lex Frieden, who played a significant role in the formation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and will speak Thursday at 2:05 p.m. Updegrove said the summit originally did not address citizens with disabilities because of time constraints.

“I can say [that], when we were fleshing out the agenda for this, we had limited slots for different panel positions,” Updegrove said.

The statement posted on the National Council on Disability website expressed the group’s displeasure with the summit’s original decision to not include representation for the community of Americans with disabilities.

“The National Council on Disability, an independent federal agency whose 15 members are appointed by the President, urges the LBJ Presidential Library to take this opportunity to include the perspectives and contributions [of] 54 million Americans with disabilities in keeping our collective eyes on the prize for every American still subject to discrimination,” the National Council on Disability said.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed on July 26, 1990, and aims to guarantee equal opportunities for those with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, telecommunications and state and local government services. The act is enforced through an unfunded mandate, which means states are not given resources to meet the requirements.

An upcoming conference at Texas A&M celebrating the ADA played a part in the decision to leave this aspect of civil rights out of the Summit, Updegrove said, expressing his regret for the original decision.

“Right up the road in College Station, there is going to be a conference celebrating the 25th anniversary of the George H. W. Bush administration, and, on their agenda, there was something about ADA,” Updegrove said. “I thought that, if they were addressing that, we would address other issues involving civil rights. It was probably a little shortsighted on my part.”

Maya Henry, assistant professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders, said the government is not doing enough to aid many people with neurodegenerative diseases.

“I think we could do a lot better, in terms of the population that I work with, in terms of how to help them with long term rehabilitation and reintegration into the community after their brain injuries,” Henry said. “They’re massively overlooked. Insurance runs out and they’re not covered and they don’t get any help.”