Black #Disability History: Major Owens, Unsung Hero of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Major Robert Odell Owens (June 28, 1936 – October 21, 2013)

“What is our greatest enemy? Segregation.” – Major Owens

Major Robert Odell Owens served in the United States House of Representatives from 1983 to 2007, representing the state’s 11th Congressional district. More than just being a signatory of the ADA legislation, when the original version of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was introduced on April 29, 1988, most Americans were unaware of the need for the legislation. In May 1988, Congressman Owens established a Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities to collect and present information on the extent of disability discrimination.

From his subcommittee post, Representative Owens was a primary backer and a floor manager of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a law Owens said set forth “clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards addressing discrimination against individuals with disabilities.”

You can find out more about Major Owens role from his Congressional bio: http://history.house.gov/People/Detail/19262

And from his 1999 interview with Mouth Magazine: http://www.freedomclearinghouse.com/mouth/majorowenssays.htm 

OWENS-obit

Image: African American man at podium in a dark suit with arms outstretched. (NYTimes Obit Photo)

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