This July marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. What is the ADA? It’s an historical and pivotal piece of legislation that was introduced into the 101st Congress, passed by both chambers, and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.
The ADA has expanded opportunities and access for Americans with disabilities by breaking down barriers and changing outdated perceptions. The law ensures equal employment opportunities without discrimination to any person with a disability; it prohibits discrimination by state and local governments, enforceable by the U.S. Department of Justice—which means that state and local programs, services, and activities are made available to all individuals with disabilities. The ADA also requires places of public accommodation (for example, restaurants, hotels, sports stadiums, etc.) to provide basic accessibility to facilities, as well as to take steps to accommodate patrons, customers, or guests with vision, hearing, and speech needs. There are also miscellaneous provisions within the law relating to the ADA and its relationship to other laws, state immunity, as well as its impact on insurance providers and benefits.
Amendments to the ADA were passed in 2008 to counter a narrow description of “disability” and to provide broad protection from additional discrimination.
As acutely articulated by researcher and disability rights activist, Lex Frieden, “Many people now don’t even remember how it was before the ADA…but there has been many, many changes and it hasn’t just been the number of parking spaces in front of the drug store.”
Perhaps this very sentiment is why it’s so important to commemorate the successes of the ADA and even the progress still to be made on this quarter-century anniversary. The United States has made great strides toward ending discrimination as well as improving accessibility and opportunity for individuals with disabilities. However, the U.S. Access Board began in 2014 to update and develop a new era of guidelines for elements of American life that didn’t exist 25 years ago. These include electronic and information technology, telecommunications products and services, public rights-of-way, and medical diagnostic equipment, all of which could further level the playing field for Americans with disabilities. You can participate in this movement by adding your own comments and feedback at the Access Board’s website.
In addition to the Access Board, the ADA is celebrating its silver anniversary by encouraging individuals, businesses, and even corporations to sign the ADA Pledge, committing to another 25 years of ensured civil rights. However, the full promise and intent of the ADA may only endure if American culture remains committed to continue these efforts. Join other Americans in solidarity: read the full pledge and sign your name here.
Excitingly, you can do more than sign your name and add comments on the web. Events to celebrate the ADA are being held throughout the country including San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, and more. Check out this website to find the nearest event to you, or host your own! The ADA National Network wants you to be a part of this exciting time, and has even created a fun and useful media kit, complete with sample Facebook posts, Tweets, and more so that you can join the conversation or even start your own within your networks!
American culture is always evolving and adapting. The ADA, as a part of American culture, is just one piece in the awesome puzzle that is the United States. So get out there, tell your friends, and commemorate 25 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act!
Photo courtesy of the ADA National Network's media kit.