An Introduction: William J. Freeman

William Freeman In 1991, after graduation from Cumberland School of Law, our founder William J. Freeman worked with other activists around the world to form an electronic network, in the days before widespread availability of the internet as we know it today, to carry newsgroups related to disability topics.  By 1993, the network, called ADAnet, served people with disabilities in at least thirty-two countries. Freeman was born with Cerebral Palsy.

An activist at heart, Freeman was recognized as a leader in disability technology, and in 1994 was the keynote speaker for the Rehabilitation Technology Association.

Shortly thereafter, and true to form, Freeman noticed patrol cruisers belonging to the Birmingham Police Department routinely using handicap parking at the courthouses in Alabama for their routine business involving the courts. Because he had a small video camera with him one day when he noticed such an abuse, he began filming the incident, up to a Sargeant arriving to take an incident report. Thereafter, local law enforcement officials quit using handicap parking illegally.

As his practice as a Birmingham lawyer and specially as a Civil-Law Notary of Alabama grew, Freeman began traveling, and noticing how people with disabilities were treated in the early days after 9/11.  By engaging the issue through letters to policymakers, Freeman changed the way that our U.S. Transportation Security Administration interacted with people with disabilities. This also involved changes in the way that assist personnel are used in airports and other transportation industries today.

In February, 2007, the American Disability Association began planning a continental survey of disabilities in the Americas. Freeman notified then Secretary of State Dr. Rice as to our intention to undertake international work in reforming disability policy. By March, 2008, he was in Buenos Aires meeting with H. Patricio Burbano V., the filmmaker chosen to make the documentary "Disability in the Americas." Burbano, a young published filmmaker, was studying cinema in Buenos Aires when we met him, and was eager to help us with our project, at no charge to our organization (an in-service donation of his time and efforts).

William Freeman The American Disability Association sent Freeman to Uruguay, Argentina and Ecuador to study disability and develop the documentary in South America. It was in Quito, at the United States Embassy there, that Freeman learned how difficult the United States intended to make any comparison of people with disabilities in the Americas.

The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) states, in part, that "Persons with disabilities, and especially those who live in institutionalized settings, are particularly vulnerable to torture or other forms of inhuman or degrading treatment." Since the documentary project sought to embrace an approach of "keeping up appearances" with other nations, comparing the standard of living of people with disabilities across the continent, the United States punished and tortured Freeman when he tried to leave the Embassy at Quito the same way he had entered - through the handicap parking area at the Embassy. Freeman was not allowed to return to his car, but was forced to climb a dirty grass hill and stand while Burbano retrieved the car.

William Freeman By studying bright-line disability issues in South America, the American Disability Association realized that certain at-risk populations in the United States would be uncounted in the 2010 U.S. Census. This is mainly due to many people with disabilities being displaced during the Global Economic Crisis and necessarily living in non-conventional and mobile situations. Freeman participated with the World Bank in studying the causes and effects of the Crisis and has been very active in teaching other influentials how the crisis was absolutely and completely avoidable.

Bill Freeman Talks about "Making the Documentary: Disability in the Americas"

Being counted in the Census is very important as it determines the distribution of federal funds at the local level. The American Disability Association continues to draw on and develop disability policies that sustain our belief that everyone has an important role to play in society and that we should help each other achieve our dreams.

We were diligent in explaining that students with disabilities take longer in their studies, require reasonable accommodations and other academic supports in order to obtain their matriculation, and required accommodations in the interview process. Quito Consul Sharon Weber agreed that Burbano would receive an accommodation: he would be permitted to have the President of the American Disability Association, William Freeman, accompany him during his second embassy interview. Just before the second interview began, our organization was informed that Burbano would not receive the accommodation as promised, and he was unaccompanied during his second visa interview to enter the United States, and that visa request was denied.

We welcome the involvement of other media in telling our story. We welcome your donations, through the link below, in support of our work.

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We must not allow anybody to make us feel that we are born to live in poverty and deprivation, we must make it clear: we are going to live in dignity and honor.
-- Martin Luther King
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