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Cerebral palsy group celebrates 25 years of the ADA

Members of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of

Members of the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Greater Suffolk participate in a celebration in honor of the 25th anniversary of The Americans With Disabilities Act at UCP of Suffolk's main facility in Hauppauge on Wednesday, July 22, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

About 50 people turned out to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act Wednesday in Hauppauge.

The United Cerebral Palsy Association of Greater Suffolk center hosted the event, which included a parade, skits and speeches highlighting the act's importance.

"The ADA was a gift that we must not take for granted," Jaquan Giles, 27, of Brentwood, told the gathering. "We are the only ones that can take charge of our lives. It is important that we take control of our futures."

President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990. It bans discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities and paved the way for public services and accommodations.

Giles, former president of the association's Self-Advocacy Group, said more work needed to be done and he and his team would continue the fight. The 20-person group, which planned this year's party, organizes a similar event each year to remind themselves and others about how the act fits into their lives.

"It's part of our mission of self advocacy, and you can't talk about self advocacy or people with developmental disabilities without talking about the ADA," Giles said. "It's like football without touchdowns."

Red, white and blue balloons lined the walls and a table was stocked with packets of information about the ADA and self advocacy. Skits showed attendees how to recognize and call out discriminatory behavior.

Current group president Anthony Barker, 29, of Bay Shore, said the event took a couple of months to plan.

"Everybody with a disability deserves this day," he said.

Like Barker, Michelle Samito, 30, of Smithtown, said she is proud of the event and the progress she's made in advocating for herself and others with disabilities during her nine years with the group. She thinks the celebrations help spread awareness and promote self-advocacy tactics.

"There are so many challenges to speak up for yourself," she said, digging into a slice of cake. "I've learned to speak up and feel comfortable around different people."

Stephen Friedman, United Cerebral Palsy of Suffolk CEO and president, said the celebration is part of the group's continuing work, which includes lobbying in Albany for great protections for people with disabilities and for funding for support services.

"They wanted to do something to recognize that [anniversary] and recognize that the work is not over," he said. "There are lots of pressures at times to reverse what was achieved with the ADA. By keeping that focus, it keeps it as a vital piece of legislation and focused on the things that still need to be accomplished."

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