July 26 will mark the 23rd anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Introduced in 1990 to prevent discrimination towards people with disabilities and to guarantee their right to “enjoy employment opportunities, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in State and local government programs and services,” the ADA was a landmark piece of legislation that changed the national landscape for many who had faced such hurdles throughout their lives.
“The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is often compared to the 1964 Civil Rights Act in its broad protection against discrimination,” says Anna Fay, ICS Director of Independent Living Services and a leader of the disability rights movement from its early days. “People with disabilities have realized many positive changes as a result of this legislation in providing opportunities for employment, education, and public accommodations.”
The changes brought about as a result of the ADA have been both big and small. Individuals with dyslexia are now entitled to have a reader to support their learning needs. Major sporting and cultural venues have compulsory accessible seating areas to ensure inclusivity for people using mobility devices. And in response to the accessibility standards outlined under the ADA, developers are increasingly making “universal design” decisions that ensure their buildings surpass minimum standards and cater to all.
But, as Anna cautions, Americans living with disabilities still face many challenges in regards to accessibility and equality. “People with disabilities still have the highest unemployment rate of any other group in the United States. Many places of public accommodation, including restaurants, theaters, and shops, are not in compliance with the ADA, and medical facilities, hospitals, and large physician practices have barriers that prohibit people with disabilities from receiving services. The full promise of the ADA will only be realized if people with disabilities and their advocates remain vigilant,” Anna says.
The anniversary of the ADA gives us cause to recognize progress, come together and learn. The ADA National Network has run a range of webinars recently, including ADA Anniversary Update: 23 Years Later on July 16, where guests were able to listen to representatives from the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Department of Justice discuss how the ADA has progressed since its implementation. The ADA National Network has also released an ADA Question and Answer Booklet as well as Disability Law Handbooks, Fact sheets, and other resources available on their website.
On the July 26 anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, many will reflect on their hopes for improved accessibility and equality in the future. At ICS, we look forward to the day when equal employment opportunities for people with disabilities are truly realized; when women living with physical disabilities have full access to health care facilities; and when public transportation is truly accessible to all.
What are your hopes for Americans with disabilities in the future?