I remember in 1984, when ADAPT was made up of only 35 people. In San Francisco, we gained more members. When I arrived in San Francisco, it was hot, and hilly. We did not think we could make it up and down the big hills to get to buses and trolleys to block them. We planned on blocking them as a form of protest to push for ramps on all public transportation all around the country for all of our brothers and sisters with disabilities to be able to ride with able-bodied people. Blocking buses is what ADAPT was good at. At that time if someone had a disability they were considered second-class citizens to the bus industry.
At the time of the San Francisco protest against the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in 1987, ADAPT consisted of approximately 500 members. APTA thought that they could hold us back. APTA was friends with the Mayor of San Francisco, who tried to make it difficult for ADAPT to get to APTA to present our agenda. The Reverend Wade Blank was an active participant in over three decades of political organizing. He thought like the Reverend Martin Luther King when it came to civil disobedience. He taught others how to create and record their own destiny.
A brilliant strategist, Wade Blank helped shape the tide of the disability rights movement. The disability rights movement was like the black movement in the 60’s. If an individual who used a wheelchair did not have access to buses all around the cities or the country, ADAPT would follow APTA all around the country or if they met out of the country we were there to get all transportation accessible for all people in this free country.
On the first day we went to the San Francisco City Hall, 500 people stretching the six blocks through the hills of San Francisco. On arriving at City Hall, we surrounded the building, APTA members would not get in without an ADAPT welcome, and it was a welcome they would long remember. Chanting, “Access is a Civil Right” we linked arms and APTA was forced to climb over our wheelchairs.
I remember APTA members tried to exit through the back entrance but we pushed big trashcans to block the exit.
On the second day, we went on the street to do what ADAPT is best known for, stopping buses. I remember we had to watch the bus drivers in San Francisco, because if the driver saw a wheelchair they thought we would stop right in front of the bus. Protesters almost got hit in San Francisco to get the rights to ride with our brothers and sisters.
People questioned why we did not want special transportation. We are not special, we are disabled and we do not need door-to-door service. The protesters felt empowered to push for what they previously thought they could not do. ADAPT showed the disability community they had the right to ride all public transportation in all communities.
ADAPT wanted access to all types of transportation. APTA was the governing body for bus transportation, which was where our initial focus lay. Instead of providing lifts for the buses, APTA provided air conditioning. ADAPT had been working on accessible public transportation for four long years. We wanted to meet with Jack Gilstrap, the President of APTA. He thought ADAPT was a military organization and that if he met with us, we would kill him. When we did meet with him, we blocked him in from all sides. He could not go anywhere, until we let him out.
ADAPT did not lose our focus for our right to ride the buses with all people. Not all people agreed with our tactic but now we have the right to use public transportation. If we had given up, the disability population would have had nothing to show, but by persevering, we gained.