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Americans with Disabilities Act: Breaking through Barriers

President George H.W. Bush, on July 26, 1990, signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, the civil rights legislation enacted for individuals with disabilities. Banning discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, places of public accommodation, public services, transportation and telecommunications, the ADA ushered in a new era of opportunity for people with disabilities by formalizing equity and inclusiveness as federal standards.


The ADA does not service just a small portion of the population — its protections now cover an estimated 61 million Americans.


Although the ADA has not been around for very long, activists fought for disability rights at least since the early 1900s. A good example of this was Helen Keller, known to many as the blind and deaf protagonist of “The Miracle Worker.” Keller did much more than that, however. She fought for the inclusion of people with disabilities, particularly those who were blind or visually impaired. The disability rights movement that eventually led to the passage of the ADA started in the 1960s, when people with all types of disabilities began advocating for equal access and opportunity.


Improvements in transportation, public access, and telecommunications mean that there’s been a real culture shift in terms of people with and without disabilities doing things in their communities, side by side


Independence can mean a lot of things to different people. For those of us with disabilities, the ADA has given us the freedom and independence. Equal access to public life has been one of the biggest area of progress. The country is a long way from the days wherein the people with disabilities were out of sight and out of mind — it’s now routine to have accessible campuses, workplaces, and public buildings via ramps, curb cuts, elevators, and designated parking spots. Closed captioning,hearing-assisted telephone communications, or accessible websites online are common.


The ADA Anniversary is a time that we can reflect positively on a law that has made a great impact on the lives of people with disabilities and our country over the past 30 years. The message within the Preamble and history is powerful because it clearly states the Congressional intent that the law is intended "to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities."


While there are still many accessibility and attitudinal barriers to break down in the United States, not to mention a still disproportionately high unemployment rate, the ADA has certainly opened a lot of doors to those of us with disabilities.


The ADA’s promise to improve levels of employment for individuals with disabilities has been a big disappointment. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 20.1 percent of people with disabilities were employed in 2019— compared to 70.6 percent of the non-disabled population


The problem is three-fold: employer fear that accommodations for employees with disabilities will be too costly (a fear that runs counter to much official data), an educational achievement gap for many disabled people coming out of educational services, and lingering bias. People with disabilities have historically been thought of as people who don’t work, but individuals with disabilities want to work alongside their able-bodied peers.


Thanks to this legislation, inclusion is possibile for individuals with disabilities to contribute to society by being seen for their abilities, but communities across the country have to put it into action.


In the future, it may be wise for advocates and legislative leaders to scrutinize how the law can be updated.This way we will hopefully break down the barriers that still remain for Americans with disabilities.


Empower Possibilities on July 31st is hosting with Ms. Wheelchair Florida an ADA Celebration. The theme is "Breaking Barriers to Possibilities" for people with disabilities. This event will give advocates, community leaders, families and individuals with disabilities a voice to share experiences of how the Americans with Disabilities Act has impacted their daily lives.


The ADA Anniversary is a time that we can reflect positively on a law that has made a great impact on the lives of people with disabilities and our country over the past 30 years. The message within the Preamble and history is powerful because it clearly states the Congressional intent that the law is intended "to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities." Together we can Educate, Advocate, and Empower possibilities for individuals with disabilities!


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