An 8-year-old Girl Captured the Nation's Attention and Motivated Congress to Pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.

An 8-year-old Girl Captured the Nation's Attention and Motivated Congress to Pass the Americans with Disabilities Act.

July 19, 2022 by The Foundation for a Better Life

Lifelong Disability rights activist Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins abandoned her wheelchair at the young age of eight to crawl up the Capitol steps, compelling Congress to pass a landmark civil rights law that increased access for those with disabilities and removed barriers. “Doing the Capitol Crawl—it wasn’t just to proclaim my rights, but it was also to proclaim [the rights of] my generation and future generations of kids with disabilities,” Jennifer said.

Jennifer Keelan was a young girl who had dreams of one day attending college and living a fulfilling life. At age 2, Jennifer was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects the motor cortex of the brain and leaves her using a wheelchair. Jennifer was a bright and courageous girl, yet when she attempted to attend school with her peers, she was relegated to separate classes for students with disabilities, regardless of aptitude. She found herself unable to attend some school functions, use transit systems and access government buildings. Jennifer accepted the limitations of her physical life, but not the limitations of the physical world around her. 

Jennifer became active in campaigning for the Americans with Disabilities Act. She engaged in peaceful protests and, at age 7, was arrested in Montreal, a moment in history that shocked North America.

At age 8, Jennifer traveled to Washington, D.C. The shy, unassuming, yet determined little girl caught the attention of the country when she crawled unaided up the Capitol steps. It worked. Jennifer met with Congress, and President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.

Jennifer remains an activist today, making sure all people with disabilities are treated fairly and have equal access to public places, schools and businesses. The only barriers that remain are those of perception.

Jennifer wants all of us to know that physical disabilities are not a barrier to friendship, career opportunities or love. She graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in family and human development. She is now 39 years old and still sharing the message of inclusivity. For her, like all of us, making a difference begins one step at a time, no matter how hard it is.  She co-authored an inspiring autobiographical picture book, named "All The Way to the Top." She remains a lifelong activist for the disability rights movement and is a true hero for accessiblity. 

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Watch video here: https://youtu.be/86xNxHY3iU8

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