Sunday, July 26, marked the 30th anniversary of the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act. A long fought-for piece of legislation, President Bush signed what amounts to the first civil rights law for people with disabilities.
Thanks to the ADA, communication systems have to be accessible to those with disabilities. Employment discrimination based on disability is illegal. New public buildings have to be built to standards that permit access to all parts of the buildings. Hotels must offer adapted rooms to those who need them. Airplanes have to offer accommodations suitable for the needs of someone with a disability. Across the country, there are agencies tasked with supporting ADA compliance.
Although the law is 30 years old and has resulted in many changes, it’s not enough to have the law; it has to be enforced.
For the ADA, enforcement is spotty. Many people with disabilities still face employment discrimination. According to a number of national studies, the unemployment rate for those of us with disabilities who want to be employed is in the neighborhood of 70%. Although there are federal laws that require it, insurance providing physical health benefits does not match what that same insurance provides for mental health benefits.
There are polling places across the country that are not accessible; most candidate/ballot question material isn’t available in Braille or large print.
Leaders in the disability field, like the late Justin Dart and Fred Fay, were proud of the scope of the ADA, and they had a right to be. They foresaw sea changes as a result of its impact.
Thirty years later, though, discrimination still exists. We in the disability community cannot say that we have a comprehensive, effective, disability-focused civil rights act.