Have you ever stopped to think about how the ADA affects you? Because it impacts more lives than not, regardless of your abilities.
This Sunday July 26th marked 25 years since President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. Disability rights advocates fought for decades to make it happen. And the latest generation is still working to bring about change and acceptance.
Jack Brandt is an advocate and artist living in Virginia. He says, “The ADA is just words on a piece of paper. It is up to us to keep the spirit and the intention of the ADA alive for all of us. It is a travesty to have to declare rights for a group of people when it’s already stated in the U.S Constitution. Despite this, we should remember the passion and the dedication of all who worked on the ADA to make a more inclusive society for all of us. The 25th Anniversary of ADA gives us the opportunity to celebrate diversity and inclusion for all.”
Back in 1990, opponents of the bill argued it would be too costly. Many feared small businesses would have trouble meeting the new standards for universal design.
A quarter century later though, and that universal design is helping an estimated 55 million Americans with disabilities, and plenty of others as well. Curb cuts benefit parents pushing strollers, bikers, and delivery workers pushing dollies. They’re so useful in everyday life it’s often forgotten that they’re here so people in wheelchairs can actual maneuver through neighborhoods.
Extra large bathroom stalls come in handy for our increasing population of obese adults as well as families with small children. Of course, those stalls are luxuries for those people, and necessities for others.
Elevators, ramps, accessible public transportation, braille on ATMs, closed captioning, fire alarms that can be seen as well as heard – we can thank the ADA for these essential tools. Granted, it hasn’t been cheap. It’s estimated that the cost of making ADA related changes runs into billions of dollars spent by businesses and the government. But universal design – the practice of creating products, buildings, public spaces, and programs to help the greatest number of people – helps everyone. As the Baby Boom generation transitions to the “Senior Boom” more and more people will be in need of adaptive access. Even if you don’t have a disability, there is a very good chance that you’ll acquire one at some point in your life.
But the ADA goes beyond universal design. One of the cornerstones of the law is to provide equal opportunities to people with disabilities in employment. The great hope was that it would end discrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately we are far from that. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014 only 17.1% of Americans with disabilities were employed. These numbers have not budged over the last 25 years.
It’s not that people with disabilities aren’t seeking employment. They are. But it’s hard to prove discrimination in the interview and hiring process. Some individuals with disabilities seeking employment say that companies are fearful of hiring them because they worry about litigation that might come about if companies are not able to provide the supports that employees might need.
Still, the ADA provides a sense of security to many. Amy Oulette was born in 1988, just two years before the law passed. She says the ADA helped to go to college and continues to support her. “I know that if an employer tried to discriminate against me because of my disability (autism) that I could legally file a lawsuit against the company.”
Matthew Shapiro is a 24-year-old man who lives in Richmond. He has cerebral palsy and uses a power wheelchair to help with his mobility issues. He shared how the ADA has impacted his life: “It gave me the opportunity to attend and graduate from all forms of public school and college. During my elementary school years, because I was the first student who used a wheelchair to attend this school, they built a ramp to give me access to the playground…. I have been able to attend baseball games and actually go on the field…. I have been honored to serve in President Obama’s White House as an intern. I have been able to deliver countless speeches at different conferences advocating for disability concerns. This, too, is all because of the ADA. Without the ADA I would not have been able to live the fulfilling life that I have had the privilege of living.”