There is so much that we have in our country that enables individuals with disabilities to access buildings, streets and facilities safely and without difficulty. A sidewalk ramp, an elevator, handicapped parking spots, wider doors to allow wheelchairs to pass through, sign language interpreters, tweeting sounds at street crosswalks, and braille on elevators are just a few of the enhancements that people with disabilities utilize today.
But it was not always this way.
I remember a time when my classmate who was in a wheelchair, could not enter a bathroom stall in a public restroom, because the door was not wide enough for her wheelchair to pass through. I’m sure other people remember times when individuals with disabilities could not get on a bus, get down a curb to cross a street, or find an elevator instead of stairs to get to the second floor of a building. Simply put, daily life was so much harder and often prohibited a person from going places, being independent or living life similar to a person without disabilities.
But all of this changed on July 26, 1990, when the American with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush.
The ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The law removes barriers and establishes that reasonable accommodations be made available to people with disabilities.
What is a disability under the ADA?
The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment. The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.” In addition, the disability does not have to be severe or permanent, either. For example, a pregnant woman who is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy must be treated the same way as another temporarily disabled employee.
How does the ADA help people with disabilities?
The ADA is not only there for physical enhancements in our environment; it seeks to eliminate discrimination on the basis of disability, much the same way the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on sex, race or religion.
The ADA website describes in detail the ways in which this law helps individuals with disabilities access jobs, schools, public places (such as day care centers, recreation facilities, movie theaters, restaurants, hotels, pools and many other places), and services such as telephones, cell phones, pagers, call-waiting, and operator services.
So, happy anniversary ADA. And thank you for helping to become an equalizer when it comes to access and opportunity for so many Americans.