The first time I read All the Way to the Top: How One Girls’ Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything, I felt admiration for Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, the young girl whose story is told in the book by Annette Bay Pimentel with illustrations by Nabi H. Ali. I also had a question: How could the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) only be thirty years old? That question sent me on a trip through many primary sources that expanded my understanding of the ADA and my appreciation for Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins.
There are many ways that Pimentel’s book can be paired with primary sources. Each of them would begin with a reading of the picture book. The writing and illustrations give a solid background to Keelan-Chaffin’s young life, the reality of many disabled Americans prior to the ADA, and the ideas behind the movement that made the passage of the ADA possible. What are some of the many directions students may explore after reading Pimentel’s book?
Explore the Life of the Main Character
Students may want to know more about the main character in the book, Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, and other aspects of her life. My youngest readers of picture book biographies often wonder, What is happening with that person now? Luckily there are a series of videos from It’s Our Story featuring Jennifer.
In one video, she gives her own account of her climbing the stairs of the Capitol. Keelan-Chaffins is able to expand beyond what the pages of the picture book can hold in her sharing of memories of that moment. In another video, she gives an account of why she climbed those stairs as part of her work fighting for equal rights for individuals with disabilities.
Encourage students to analyze these videos and others of Keelan-Chaffins in the curated set of primary sources. Ask students to explore questions such as:
- What motivates Keelan-Chaffins?
- How do we see her motivations in her actions?
- What character traits would we use to describe Jennifer?
Encourage students to draw examples from both Pimentel’s text, Ali’s illustrations, and Keelan-Chaffins’s interviews.
Explore the Americans with Disabilities Act
Older students may want to explore aspects of the law passed in 1990. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce students to Congress.gov where they can find current and past legislation. Like much legislation, the ADA is a weighty document. Depending on the students’ comfort with navigating the language in the law, they may want to explore only one section or area. Students may:
- Browse the amendments to the ADA to see how the law changed from its introduction to Congress to being signed into law.
- Explore the actions of the law to see a timeline of the Senate bill becoming a law. This, of course, is just the final leg of its journey.
- Search Congress.gov for “Americans with Disabilities Act.” Limit findings by congressional year to see other activity prior to the Senate bill becoming law.
Explore the Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act
As Pimentel’s text and Keelan-Chaffins’s words imply, the passage of the ADA did not mean that everything was (or is) equal in the US for Americans with disabilities. Also included in the curated set of primary sources are news stories after 1990 focused on the ADA and its impact. Supreme Court hearings, panel discussions, and reporting give at-the-moment evidence of how the understanding and implementation of the ADA evolved over time.
A search of the American Archive of Public Broadcasting for “Americans with Disabilities Act” reveals over a hundred references to public broadcasting over the last thirty years about the ADA. Many of these programs have searchable transcripts. Students can draw from the curated set or search on their own. They may explore:
- How is the ADA being understood, interpreted, or questioned at that moment in history?
- What evidence is reported that shows how the ADA is being enforced at a moment in time?
- How does the understanding of the ADA appear to be changing at this moment as evident through this broadcast?
- How does reporting from the time period relate to the reality of today? If we are not fully aware of the impact of the ADA today? How can we find out?
Pairing Picture Books and Primary Sources from Home
Please see the publisher’s guidelines for online reading of All the Way to the Top. Pimentel’s book can be found at independent bookstores and online booksellers.
Depending on the age group that is experiencing this story, their interactions with primary sources can take place at home as well as their viewing of their librarian or teacher reading the story. Internet access and a device are required. Opportunities for students to collaborate using means already in place would be beneficial in students thinking through and reacting to Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins’s story and their understanding of the ADA.
Author: Tom Bober
Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.