ADA Legacy Tour: Get on the Bus!

By Gary Arnold, ADA Legacy Project

On a weekday in late October, Tom Olin, the legendary chronicler of the disability rights movement, was at the wheel of the ADA Legacy Tour Bus, driving across Arizona. Tom was on his way to California for the Abilities Expo in San Jose, which took place on November 21-23. The Tour is raising awareness about the Americans with Disabilities Act, and building excitement for the ADA's 25th Anniversary in July 2015.   

ADA Tour Bus on Road Trip

Alone in the middle of the Arizona desert, Olin said he is thrilled to be part of the ADA Legacy Tour. "I wasn't there for the civil rights movement, the voting rights movement or Vietnam. But I was there for a community that I already belonged to. That meant a lot to me and I don't want people to forget."

ADA Legacy Project: Origin Story

Mark Johnson, the Director of Advocacy for the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Georgia is no stranger to ADA Anniversaries. For the 10th Anniversary in 2000, he helped with the Spirit of ADA Torch Relay, a 24-city, cross-country relay designed to inform, educate and reach out to people with disabilities. For the 25th anniversary, Mark spearheaded discussions about a project that would leave a deep impact on the community and the broader public, in particular younger generations. Out of the discussions came the ADA Legacy Project, developed to honor the contributions of people with disabilities and their allies by preserving the history of the disability rights movement, celebrating milestones of the movement, and educating the public and future generations of advocates. 

ADA Tour Bus on Road Trip

In the beginning, the project had a concept and a goal, but the group needed a mechanism to route the tour around the country. That's when Mark reached out to David Korse, the President and CEO of the Abilities Expo. When he heard from Mark, David quickly agreed to host a tour. The Abilities Expo donated a 40' by 40' space to the Legacy Project at each Expo stop around the country between July of 2014 and June of 2015. Through the partnership with the Abilities Expo, the ADA Legacy Project had the framework of a route, and the ADA Legacy Tour was born. Immediately the ADA Legacy Team developed a display with materials, giveaways and activities shaped around the goals of the project.

Introducing (drum roll, please)…the ADA Tour Bus!

In the spring of 2014, as the project group prepared to launch at the Abilities Expo in Houston, Texas, a new component emerged. In 2007, leading up to the passage of the ADA Amendments Act, Jim Ward, founder of ADA Watch, and Tom Olin traveled around the country in the "Road to Freedom" Bus, building support for new legislation to restore the intent of the ADA. For the past several years, the bus has been sitting, unused, in a garage in Sacramento, California. The ADA Legacy Team got the bus back on the road. By late July of 2014, between the Abilities Expo and an RV fully accessorized with ADA swag, the ADA Legacy Tour was off the ground. 

ADA Tour Bus on Road Trip

In the beginning, we were "literally winging it, and flying by the seat of our pants," Johnson said. After the first Abilities Expo, the bus was sitting in Houston. Johnson made a call to Tim Wheat of ADAPT and asked, "What are you doing for the next few weeks?"  Before long, Wheat, who lives in Tennessee, made his way to Houston, and the bus rolled out, on its way to St. Paul, Minnesota for the launch of the "Moments in History" campaign, a series created by the Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities that chronicles key moments in time that led to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

Olin revels in the spontaneity of the tour. At one point, the bus was in Iowa, approaching Des Moines. The U.S. Senate was in recess. Wheat contacted Senator Tom Harkin's Office. Olin reached out to the Statewide Independent Living Council. Within 24 hours, they put together an event with Senator Harkin at the minor league ballpark in Des Moines. "It's kind of fun to set up stuff in less than 24 or 48 hours," Olin said.

On the Road to the ADA's 25th Anniversary

In 2015, there will be fewer last minute phone calls. More than 30 stops are already lined up between January and July 26, the ADA 25th Anniversary Date. The heavy calendar is a testament to the popularity the tour has already built, just ask Janine Bertram of the Disability Rights Center, who was with the bus for two stops in New Mexico and has been a part of the Legacy Tour planning process. "Everyone loves the bus," she said. "They want to be near it. They want their photos taken with it. The bus gets youth talking about history and what is next and important for them. It is a phenomena to witness."

For more information about the tour, visit






Pre-Register for Abilities Expo Today...It's Free!

Sign up for the Abilities Buzz

Stay in the know on disability news and info.