Thirty years ago, Margot Imdieke Cross was told, in a waiting room full of potential job candidates, that the company "didn't hire her kind."
She looked down at her wheelchair in disbelief.
"I was stunned," she said. "What does that even mean, 'My kind?' Life was so different back then."
Imdieke Cross, along with Gov. Mark Dayton, former Sen. David Durenberger and 1,000 others, celebrated the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act on Sunday at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul as part of a family day event.
Durenberger and Imdieke Cross were there that June day in 1990 and witnessed firsthand as President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law in front of 3,000 people outside of the White House.
It was hot and humid, but Imdieke Cross was armed with squirt bottles filled with water in case anybody in the audience looked overheated or fatigued. "We just had a grand time," she recalled to a crowded auditorium in St. Paul on Sunday.
"Many of us in the audience were excited, but also very fearful," she said. "We accomplished something monumental, but we were scared because now we have to make it work."
The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against workers with disabilities and requires reasonable accommodations for a worker's disability. This might include providing readers or sign language interpreters, special breaks for medical reasons, or ramps and other physical modifications to a workstation. The law covers a multitude of areas that guarantee public and workplace accessibility.
Durenberger, who was a cosponsor of the ADA, has previously pointed out that the federal law has roots in Minnesota policy that dates back more than 50 years. As a U.S. senator, he proudly wore a "Durenberger: He's Accessible" button during his campaign for his second term in office. Durenberger was charged with calming the concerns of employers who feared they couldn't afford mandated access, including bus companies and restaurants, he said.
Dayton presented a proclamation Sunday and told the room that despite the major accomplishments — such as accessible restrooms, curb cuts for wheelchair and vehicle access, and motorized lifts used to board a bus or van — "there's still more to do."
"We rank second in the nation with the amount of support we provide for people with disabilities," Dayton said. "I don't look at that as something to be proud of, but I look at it as an indication of how badly 48 states are doing."
Outside of the auditorium, many families decorated their mobility device with streamers and artwork, and created a piece of floor art by rolling their wheelchairs through paint. There was an exhibit showcasing the history of disability, and many stopped to share how their stories fit into the timeline. The atrium was buzzing with friends reconnecting, discussing the past 25 years, and the work that's yet to be done.
Several people congratulated Imdieke Cross on the progress made so far. She later reflected on the past 25 years, saying that her expectations of restroom and building accessibility have changed.
"The assumption was there wouldn't be access. The assumption was I wouldn't be able to go to the bathroom. The assumption was there wouldn't be a sign language interpreter. There wouldn't be Braille material. The assumption was it wasn't going to happen," she said.
"That is 180 degrees [different] now. Now we expect it and we assume the disability parking is there and we raise hell when it's not."