The Americans with Disabilities Act – 20 Years Later

by jeeg 6. July 2010 00:48


This July 26, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by President George H.W. Bush. That law, which enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support in the House and Senate, helped to put our country on a course that would lead to equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for millions of Americans with disabilities. The ADA also inspired countries around the world to pass similar domestic legislation, a U.N. Convention, and to start to see unfair treatment of people with disabilities through the prism of civil and human rights.

In this anniversary year, we must work to lift up once again the vision and spirit of the ADA— to remind America that the radical inclusiveness of the disability movement grows from the highest ideals envisioned by America’s founding leaders. If all people are created equal, and have the right to enjoy life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, then the rights Congress recognized in the ADA are a restatement of these first principles for our country.

Much has changed in the last 20 years. America’s built environment and transportation and telecommunications infrastructure have been transformed by the ADA’s gradual approach to accessibility improvements. This change comes at a critical moment as America is aging and the demand for accessibility is increasing. Millions of Americans have grown accustomed to accessibility features when they are pushing strollers or pulling roller bags through public spaces, when they are watching captions in a noisy bar, or when they are riding their bikes up and down curb cuts.

No doubt, there is much progress to celebrate this July. At the same time,  it is critical that we use this anniversary to shine a spotlight on some of the intractable problems that have interfered with the full realization of the ADA’s goals. Anachronistic rules in our Medicaid program continue to create an insidious institutional bias that forces people to go to nursing homes and other segregated settings in order to get the supports they need to live. Our largest federal programs still require people with disabilities to prove that they can’t work before they are able to get income supports and health care.

We continue to design game-changing technologies with accessibility being thought about at the end of the process rather than the beginning. People with disabilities have twice the poverty rates of the general population, and many cannot afford safe, accessible housing in a neighborhood of their choice. Only about one-third of adults with significant disabilities are working, notwithstanding the fact that the vast majority of our population would prefer to work if they had an opportunity.

In this time of fiscal restraint, states around the country are targeting their low income disabled populations for draconian budget cuts. As we work to erase the institutional bias, many who are living in the community fear being forced to go back to an institution because of the lack of funding for community-based services.

When President Bush signed the ADA into law 20 years ago, he analogized the role that democratic ideals played in the fall of the Berlin wall to the ADA’s role in taking a sledgehammer to the “shameful wall of exclusion” that had too often prevented Americans with disabilities from participating in the mainstream of our country’s economic, social and political life. Thanks to the ADA, a whole generation of Americans has grown up in a land where their right to participate as equals is enshrined in federal law. As we approach July, let’s commit to redouble our efforts to identify and knock down the remaining barriers to full citizenship that continue to thwart the beautiful vision of the ADA. Working together, we can build on the progress of the last 20 years and create an America that celebrates and invests in the talents, dreams and aspirations of its more than 50 million children and adults with disabilities.

Andrew J. Imparato,

AAPD President and CEO


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