This year marks the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, popularly referred to as the ADA. The ADA is a companion to the landmark Civil Rights Acts passed in the 1960’s that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex and national origin. The ADA prevents discrimination against people with disabilities in a wide range of activities and mandates that many private and all public services should be made accessible.
When the ADA was passed, it set its sights on several key areas of our society where people with disabilities faced discrimination and isolation. The law was drafted to cover the actions of employers, government agencies, providers of public transportation, telecommunication companies and the owners of any accommodations open to the general public.
Through a combination of private lawsuits and governmental regulation, people with disabilities have been successful in challenging the barriers we face every day: employers that refuse to hire us; public schools that refuse to provide the services that will educate our children; public and private buildings that we cannot enter; buses, trains and taxis that cannot transport us; phones and internet websites that do not allow us to communicate.
The ADA has changed our society, enabling people with disabilities to live independent lives and become thriving members of our communities. The ADA has allowed people with disabilities to benefit from greater accessibility and to contribute our knowledge and talents to all. Many of the advances that the A.D.A. enabled 25 years ago, and seemed so revolutionary at the time, are just part and parcel of our everyday lives now. Curb cuts, text messages, closed captions on movies and TV shows, lifts on buses, ramps on buildings, the use of service animals—all of these are an indelible part of our society, as well as important tools to empower people with disabilities.
While we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, we also acknowledge the work that remains unfinished. Too many people with disabilities live in poverty. Too many of our people have given up hope of becoming gainfully employed. School funding woes threaten the services needed by students with disabilities. Cutbacks in public infrastructure funding leave us with sidewalks that are crumbling in the summer and not shoveled in the winter, curb cuts that aren’t flush, and lifts and door openers that are broken and remain unrepaired. We have come a long way, but we still have a lot of work to do.