The ADA Legacy Tour: A Celebration of Civil Rights

  • March 26, 2015

Tim Wheat

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an important milestone for the disability rights movement. Thanks to this landmark piece of legislation, a generation of people with disabilities is now entering the workforce having grown up with legal protections from isolation, segregation, lack of access and limited opportunities. 

In honor of this anniversary, the ADA Legacy Tour has been traveling across the country raising awareness and building excitement toward the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 2015. Last year I volunteered with the ADA Legacy Project to be a driver on Phase One of the historic ADA Legacy Tour. I drove the “Road to Freedom” bus from Dallas, Texas to St. Paul, Minnesota.  This trip was hugely uplifting, connecting me with members of the disability community across the country and allowing me to document and photograph advocates and allies. One particularly exciting visit was with Senator Tom Harkin in Des Moines, Iowa who was the first person to give a speech in American Sign Language (ASL) from the Senate floor following the ADA’s passage in 1990. This year, in Phase Two, the bus will be rolling across Tennessee in the second and third weeks in April, starting in Memphis with Nashville targeted for April 14 to 17, 2015.

The Legacy Tour has its roots in the disability rights movement before the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act was even created. Justin Dart, an activist and advocate for people with disabilities who died in 2002, accepted an appointment in 1981 from President Ronald Reagan to be the vice-chair of the National Council on Disability. As part of his role, he traveled with his wife Yoshiko to every US state to create a national dialogue about disability and collect thousands of first-hand examples of discrimination.

The work of Dart lives on in the 25th anniversary of the ADA Legacy tour bus, which serves as a traveling archive of the disability rights movement. The exterior of the "Road to Freedom" ADA Bus – which has traveled to 48 states—shows scenes and photos of people with disabilities marching, demonstrating and demanding equal rights. Inside visitors can learn more about disability rights history through interactive exhibits explaining how the ADA has changed America. Each stop along the ADA 25th anniversary route will also highlight local ADA personalities and themes from the area. 
Tom Olin, the bus driver, is an important part of the archive character of the legacy tour. It is his photographs on the bus and, like Dart before him; he has become the social documentarian of the movement and an essential link in the memory of the struggle for the ADA.

“It’s my role to put the image out,” said Tom Olin about his work. “I hope that for a lot of young people who have grown up in a world that doesn’t have too much disability around them that they can see photos with people with disabilities together.”

I personally can’t wait to visit the bus in my hometown of Memphis this year. You can learn more and find out ways to participate in the anniversary year celebration at the ADA Legacy website: You can follow the tour around the country at the Facebook page and Twitter.

Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is a nonprofit legal services organization that provides free legal advocacy services to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities.

Middle Tennessee (Admin Office)

2 International Plaza, Suite 825
Nashville, TN 37217

Phone: 615-298-1080
Fax: 615-298-2046

East Tennessee

9050 Executive Park Drive, Suite 101-B
Knoxville, TN 37923

Phone: 865-670-2944
Fax: 865-470-7028

West Tennessee

1407 Union Avenue, Suite 1015
Memphis, TN 38104

Phone: 901-458-6013
Fax: 901-249-2933