The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), just celebrated it’s 25th anniversary. Roberg Burgdorf, the ADA’s author, shared his motivation in The Washington Post,

  • “…well over half of all kids with disabilities were not receiving minimally adequate education.”
  • “State residential treatment institutions for people with disabilities were generally abysmal.”
  • “a transportation infrastructure that was almost totally unusable by people with mobility or visual impairments”
  • “Curb cuts or ramps on sidewalks were extremely rare, often forcing people who used wheelchairs to make their way on streets, where they faced the peril of being hit by motor vehicles.”
  • “Many states had laws prohibiting marriage by, and permitting or requiring involuntary sterilization of, persons with various mental or physical conditions, particularly intellectual disability, mental health conditions and epilepsy.”
  • “Several U.S. cities, including Chicago, Columbus and Omaha, had what became known as “ugly laws” that banned from streets and public places people whose physical condition or appearance rendered them unpleasant for other people to see.”

While so many of us remain frustrated with the amount of discrimination faced by Americans with disabilities, it certainly puts things into perspective. So much remains to be done, but we started out with so little. I never realized that families hid their disabled loved ones at home or put them in institutions because they were legally required to.

Handicapped-accessible sign at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of a vital project that now allows customers in Queens to use three new ADA-accessible elevators to reach the E, F, M, R Forest Hills-71st Av. station from street level on northbound and southbound platforms. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin via Flickr

Handicapped-accessible sign at a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the completion of a vital project that now allows customers in Queens to use three new ADA-accessible elevators to reach the E, F, M, R Forest Hills-71st Av. station from street level on northbound and southbound platforms. Photo: Metropolitan Transportation Authority / Patrick Cashin via Flickr

In 1986, “people with disabilities were largely a disadvantaged, isolated, stay-at-home population that commonly experienced discrimination and desired civil rights protection.” The ADA, a bill with bipartisan support, has been slowly changing that. President Obama spoke on how, thanks to the ADA, “the places that comprise our shared American life…truly belong to everyone.”

Right now, many businesses avoid complying with the ADA unless they’re threatened with a lawsuit and enforcement can be spotty. Getting ADA assistance can be a challenge, and people are turned away or asked inappropriate questions. People who don’t look ‘disabled’ enough are harassed by people who think they’re standing up for people with disabilities. There’s no requirement that someone be in a wheelchair to use a handicap spot — handicapped parking permits are available for a range of conditions, including temporary permits for people undergoing intense medical treatment or recovering from surgery and their caregivers. If the US was really accessible, people would not be fighting over who is disabled enough to be worthy of a parking spot or have to justify why they deserve accommodations.

One of the things that struck me about Toronto when I first visited was the number of people who were visibly disabled. They’re in the shops, on the subway, at the office, just living their lives like everyone else. New York is not easy to navigate if you have mobility issues, so people find their worlds shrink. Of course, Toronto is a very new city and since Canada also enacted its first laws protecting the rights of the disabled in the 1970s, universal was built into it, not added on later.

Many of the people who benefit from ADA aren't disabled. Steven Pisano via Flickr

Many of the people who benefit from ADA aren’t disabled. Here, two women carry a stroller up the steps of a non-ADA accessible subway station in New York. Steven Pisano via Flickr

The ADA may have been designed with the severely disabled in mind — so many people think of someone in a wheelchair being stymied by steps — but it’s made life easier for most of us. Wheelchair ramps and elevators are a huge help for people with strollers or luggage. How many people with subtitles turned on are actually deaf? Accessible homes mean we can age in place and have an easier time of it when we’re sick or recovering from an injury. And, of course, it’s enriched our lives by making it possible for our friends and family to lead full lives — from simply going to the theatre together to allowing us to benefit from the work they do as leaders.

We need to remain committed to the ADA in order to ensure that all Americans are treated with dignity and respect.

Pledge your support of the ADA

See How the Americans With Disabilities Act Has Changed Over the Last 25 Years

Learn more about the ADA

Do you have a story about the ADA’s impact on your life? Please share it in the comments!

Written by Cori Carl
As Director, Cori is an active member of the community and regularly creates resources for people providing care.

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1 Comment

  1. Before my back injury last summer I was involved full time in the construction and building industry. I can assure you, we have a long way to go before we have builders obeying and following ADA Construction code willingly. If the majority can avoid complying in new construction they will. It is sad. Because the ADA compliant structures are easier to access for the aging baby boomer generation.

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