Thirty years ago today, President George H.W. Bush signed into law a historic piece of civil rights legislation: the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This sweeping law prohibits discrimination by local and state governments, provides standards for privately owned businesses and commercial facilities, protects against discrimination in the workplace, and ensures equal access to healthcare, social services, transportation, and telecommunications. By enshrining these protections into law, the ADA affirms the inherent dignity of all Americans--regardless of ability.
With the access guaranteed by the ADA, millions of children with disabilities have grown up with more opportunities and higher expectations, and many more Americans have grown older with more resources and opportunities to live independently, participate in their communities and contribute in countless ways. Our communities, our economy, and our nation are stronger as a result.
In addition, Americans without disabilities have benefited from the impact of the ADA and the disability rights movement more directly. If you’ve ever relied on automatic door openers to get into a building when your hands are full, or have smoothly wheeled your toddler’s stroller up a ramp rather than struggling to get it up steps, you can thank disability advocates.
With a national expectation of accessibility and full participation clearly established by the ADA, the experiences of people with disabilities have reshaped our country, spurring more inclusive design and impressive technological advances. And that helps all of us. Just ask anyone who turns on captions to watch a TV show in a noisy room, or who has had a conversation with Siri, Alexa, or Cortana lately.
At ACL, we are thrilled to join the nation in celebrating this important milestone. We've partnered with HHS' Office for Civil Rights on a new website that tells the story of how the ADA came to be, showcases some of the progress we have made as a country toward achieving its promise, and illustrates a little bit of the work being done by ACL and OCR, as well as other partners within HHS and across government. And on Thursday, we'll be joined by leaders from across HHS for an event celebrating 30 years of progress and reflecting on the work that lies ahead. We hope you'll join us and watch online.
As we celebrate, we also know that we have a lot of work to do to fully realize the ADA's promise of inclusion, accessibility, and community integration.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has disproportionately affected people with disabilities, underscores the importance of the ADA and other disability rights legislation. ACL, OCR, and the disability networks have been working to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities and to ensure the continuation of services despite difficult circumstances. For example:
OCR issued guidance in March protecting people with disabilities from unlawful discrimination and has since worked with states to resolves complaints around issues including ventilator rationing and visitation policies excluding personal care assistants. ACL has worked with partners across government to ensure the unique needs of people with disabilities are considered in the national response. For example, we have advocated for direct services providers to be classified as healthcare workers for the purposes of allocating personal protective equipment. The network of ACL grantees – including Protection and Advocacy agencies, Centers for Independent Living, state Developmental Disability Councils, and University Centers of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities – have worked to deliver prepared meals and food, secure housing, provide transportation, and they have partnered with each other to provide PPE, accessible communications, and advocacy. They are working with people with disabilities to support them in living safely in their communities while practicing social distancing, and also to return to their homes following hospitalizations. The ADA and other disability rights legislation makes all of that possible.
Thirty years ago, as he signed the ADA, President Bush said we must "remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted."
We still have plenty of barriers we must remove, but there can be no doubt that our country is a better place because of the ADA, and the many people with disabilities whose tireless advocacy made it possible.
ACL's Americans with Disabilities Act 30th Anniversary webpage: https://acl.gov/ada
ADA 30th Anniversary Toolkit -- The toolkit below contains social media posts, hashtags, and graphics that can be used in your celebrations of the anniversary. Feel free to customize them, or to use them exactly as they are.