Forty years ago people with disabilities took to Denver’s streets to protest. They surrounded RTD buses to draw attention to the lack of wheelchair accessible public transportation.
Their rallying cry became “We will ride!”
Hava and Andy Rosen of Schuyler, Nebraska were there. “I got out my chair and laid down in front of the bus. We decided at that point we were going to stay overnight and keep the buses overnight. And create that awareness. People weren’t aware of anything about people with disabilities. We weren’t even thought of, ” Andy said
Hava and Andy both have cerebral palsy. Although they knew each other in 1978, they weren’t a couple yet. Andy got Hava to join the protest that day.
She said, “I was scared because I had not ever done anything like that before but it was exciting because I knew that I was doing something important and something of value.”
That group of disabled protesters became known as the Gang of Nineteen. They stopped traffic at the corner of Colfax and Broadway for two days – until RTD agreed to become the first public transit company in the nation to add lifts to the buses. That bus blockade action fired up the disability rights movement across the country.
“We changed from being disabled people who couldn’t do anything in society’s eyes to people…disabled people who could do something and cause a political change,” Andy said.
The protesters organized and eventually became ADAPT — a national network of activists. They sledgehammered concrete curbs to get attention for accessible sidewalks. They showed up at transportation board meetings carrying caskets — to illustrate that they might be dead before changes were made. They chained themselves to doors at fast food chains to get their voices heard.
“You need to realize that you are as important as anybody else,” Hava said.
Andy and Hava have changed their names since then – but they haven’t changed their enthusiasm for activism, “because I was out there and I saw the changes. And it blew me away. I mean it literally blew me away. I couldn’t believe that the system that’s out there was what we started,” Hava said.
26 year old Jordan Sibayan of Denver got involved in ADAPT about eight years ago. He spoke with Colorado Matters about how he was inspired by the Gang of Nineteen’s protests, and about the group’s current work.