ADA: The First 25 Years

ADA-banner-logoThe Americans with Disabilities Act celebrated its 25th anniversary in the summer of 2015, but the fight for this landmark legislation began long before 1990.

The disabilities rights movement consisted of action as well as the idea that people with disabilities should no longer be pushed out of sight and ignored.

Activists wrote thousands of letters to Congress sharing their stories of discrimination. Protestors blocked public buses that were inaccessible for wheelchairs.

People organized sit-ins of public spaces. In fact, the longest sit-in to ever take place in a federal building was related to disabilities rights legislation.

The first shift in public policy came with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act.
Section 504 banned discrimination of federal funds on the basis of disability.

This was a start – but there was still a long way to go.

Regulation of the anti-discrimination policy was a complicated process.

But the disability community stayed vocal and active throughout Supreme Court cases regarding Section 504.

A national campaign encouraged people with disabilities to write “discrimination diaries.”

These diaries told the stories of people who were blind, deaf, living with Down syndrome, HIV infections, mental illness or in wheelchairs.

The variety of disabilities was vast, and the need for comprehensive civil rights legislation became clear.

The first draft of the ADA was introduced in 1988. Testimonies poured in from average citizens, as well as the bill sponsors themselves. One senator spoke of his brother who is deaf. A congressman from the House of Representatives referenced his own discrimination because of epilepsy.

A veteran who is paralyzed explained that he couldn’t leave his housing project because he couldn’t navigate the street curbs or get on the bus.  A woman who had battled breast cancer could not find work because no one wanted to hire someone with a history of cancer.

These stories spoke loud and clear – and in 1989 the Senate voted in favor of the bill 76-8. People with disabilities were officially protected as a minority class.

“The ADA is a dramatic renewal not only for those with disabilities but for all of us, because along with the precious privilege of being an American comes a sacred duty to ensure that every other American’s rights are also guaranteed,” President George H.W. Bush said at the time. “This act is powerful in its simplicity.

“It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream

Did You Know?
That a service animal can only be a dog or miniature horse; that it must be on a leash at all times; and that it can go anywhere that its owner goes?

That people with disabilities must have the same opportunities to vote as the general population?

That transportation companies are required to provide accessible means of transportation for customers with disabilities?

That churches are exempt from the ADA – unless they are used as a polling place on Election Day?

That students with disabilities have the right to the same education and educational opportunities and materials as students without disabilities?

That employers have to amend policies that may be discriminatory to employees with disabilities?

That people with disabilities must be able to access all government services that are offered online? This means that all applications, forms, notices, announcements, etc. that are on a government website must be in an accessible format.

That if parking is provided, then accessible parking must be provided and marked with signage, but not necessarily marked with paint on the pavement?

That accessible seats in concert halls, arenas, theaters, etc. must be dispersed among all the seats in the venue and that they must have companion seats, as well?

That the ADA applies to employers with only 15 or more employees?

That employers have to provide all reasonable accommodations that help employees with disabilities do their jobs?

That the Kentucky Assistive Technology Network and Area Technology Centers can help citizens with disabilities acquire and pay for assistive technology?

That any disability that limits any major life activity or bodily function is covered under the ADA?

That any entity that is open to the public must be physically accessible in regard to ramps, doors, restrooms, etc.?

That courtrooms and jails must be accessible?