Thanks to the ADA: Celebrating 30 Years

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Several balloons on strings in the air

It is time to celebrate a milestone in American history! Thirty years ago, Americans with disabilities received a promise from their country for equality and inclusion; something they worked towards for decades. This victory came on July 26, 1990, when President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. He proclaimed, “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

Thanks to the ADA, millions of Americans now have the right to equal access to goods, services, information, and communication. The ADA by design increases independence, prosperity, and health to the lives of people with disabilities.

Today and every day, people with disabilities along with their advocates, families, and allies celebrate the ADA. Many organizations celebrate, too, and strive to provide equality for people with disabilities. However, it is important to understand the road to complete equality is not a sprint to the finish line, but a marathon of education, awareness, and action.

A Look-Back 

Many people are shocked to learn that thirty years ago businesses did not have to make accommodations for people with disabilities.  In fact, before the ADA exclusion of people with disabilities was an accepted and legal practice.  It was legal to pay people with disabilities reduced wages, or not hire them at all, even when they had the skills to perform a job.  

Some laws required Civil Rights for Americans with disabilities, but most of those laws pertained to agencies funded by or part of the government. Their services included employment, education, and healthcare, to name a few; and, equality was not in the equation.  One such law is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.  The primary purpose of the Rehabilitation Act was to help those returning from war find employment, housing, and education.  The law still benefits all people with disabilities today, primarily in Sections 501 (employment), 504 (accommodations and modifications), and 508 (digital accessibility).

A Need for the ADA

There was little equality in the public sector. If an organization received $10,000 or more in federal funding or support, Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act required them to offer provisions for people with disabilities. But often compliance was not enforced so organizations made little to no effort.  This lacked equality and the system created an attachment for people with disabilities to the government. 

The ADA changed a lot of this. It prohibits discrimination based on disability as a sole determining factor of qualifying for a job or having equal access to goods, services, or information.

collage of people's faces

A Personal Connection 

Thanks to the ADA, millions of Americans have equality. The CDC (2018) estimates that one in four Americans, about 61-million people, live with a disability.  That is a lot of people.  Chances are you know more than one person with a disability. And, if you are a business owner, there is a high chance that many of your clients or potential clients have a disability.   

Thanks to the ADA, gone are the days when people with disabilities were legally prohibited from participation in society.  While we all would like to think the exclusion of people with disabilities is rare; sadly, this isn’t the case.  

We Need to do More

Thanks to the ADA, a person with a disability is not asked to leave a store based on assumptions about their ability to pay.  But, access to goods, services, and information is still being denied in more subtle ways.  Sometimes this denial is unknown and unintentional to the businesses themselves. 

We must treat all people equally. Today, businesses can become champions by assessing both the structural barriers and communication barriers of their organization.  

Please contact Braille Works to learn more about removing communication barriers in your organization.

As we take time to celebrate the victories we also must assess the road ahead in accessibility for all people.

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This post was written by Christine Sket

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