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The ADA at 20

Standing from left to right are Rev. Harold Wilkie of Claremont, California and Sandra Parrino of the National Council on Disability. Seated from left to right are Evan Kemp, Chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission, President George Bush, and Justin Dart of the Presidential Commission on Employment of People with Disabilities
Standing from left to right are Rev. Harold Wilkie of Claremont, California and Sandra Parrino of the National Council on Disability. Seated from left to right are Evan Kemp, Chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission, President George Bush, and Justin Dart of the Presidential Commission on Employment of People with Disabilities

   “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” Thus spoke President George H. W. Bush at the White House signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, July 26, 1990.

For people with disabilities, that wall -- symbolically and literally -- has come down. It hasn’t entirely disappeared but the ADA, reversing the centuries long history of “out of sight, out of mind” segregation of disabled people, has made a real difference in people’s lives. It has brought about obvious changes in architecture and access. Buses and ballparks, courthouses and casinos, schools and shopping centers are accessible to all. It’s hard to recall when major cities did not have curb cuts.

To a lesser degree, perhaps, this broadening of civil rights for Americans has helped soften attitudes toward people with disabilities; the ADA and its primary beneficiaries have been woven into the fabric of daily life in this country. That is not to say nondisabled people are completely comfortable with disability; they are at least more aware of it and with time, may come to accept it as part of what defines normal in our culture.

The ADA was 20-years-old in July 2010, and like all civil rights laws, it continues to evolve. There have been challenges and litigation. But like civil rights laws that preceded it, the ADA has been fiercely defended by the leaders and the disability rights movement that helped shape the law two and three decades ago.

Many ADA anniversary celebrations took place across the U.S. that summer.

It is the time to pause and appreciate what the ADA has done for Americans. It is also a time to recognize there is much work ahead to fully remove barriers to inclusion for all. For example, the ADA has had little effect in the area of employment -- people with disabilities are still not an equal part of the workforce. Other areas that resist full inclusion include access to healthcare and the ability to live independently in the community.

Let us celebrate the ADA, celebrate the community of people with disabilities, and celebrate the idea that every citizen can live a life of freedom and equality.

U.S. Government ADA resources:

Department of Justice is the primary enforcer of the ADA.

The ADA National Network provides information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to meet the needs of business, government and individuals at local, regional and national levels. The Network consists of ten regional centers located throughout the United States for personalized, local assistance to ensure that the ADA is implemented wherever possible. The centers are funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research under the U.S. Department of Education.

Disability discrimination: If you have a disability and are qualified to do a job, the ADA protects you from job discrimination on the basis of your disability.

The Job Accommodation Network (JAN) is a reliable source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on workplace accommodations and disability employment issues. JAN helps people with disabilities enhance their employability, and shows employers how to capitalize on the value and talent that people with disabilities add to the workplace. Funded by Office of Disability Employment Policy, Department of Labor.

The Federal Transit Administration works to ensure nondiscriminatory transportation in support of social and economic quality of life for all Americans. The FTA Office of Civil Rights is responsible for civil rights compliance related to transit services.

The Federal Communications Commission makes sure that people with disabilities--such as a hearing, visual, speech, or other types of disability--get the same opportunities as everyone else to telecommunicate.

Making Health Settings Accessible: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information on increasing access to emergency preparedness, fitness and recreation, primary care, and health communication.

Independent Living: Federally supported independent living programs hope to empower and to maximize independence and productivity of individuals with disabilities and to integrate these individuals into the mainstream of American society.

Access BoardThe U.S. Access Board (or Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board) offers technical assistance on the ADA Accessibility Guidelines.

A Reeve Foundation Fact Sheet on ADA Basics (PDF)

U.S. Department of EducationThe DBTAC National Network of ADA Centers is comprised of 10 regional centers that provide information, training and technical assistance on the Americans with Disabilities Act. The centers are funded by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research under the U.S. Department of Education.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC)The Federal Communications Commission offers technical assistance on ADA telephone relay service requirements.

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity CommissionIf you believe you have been discriminated against by an employer, labor union or employment agency when applying for a job or while on the job because of your race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, or disability, you may file a charge of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

U.S. Department of JusticeHome page provides info and technical assistance with the ADA.

Paralysis Resource Center The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm ET. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

Reeve Foundation Online Paralysis Community Connecting people living with paralysis, families, friends and caregivers so we can share support, experience, knowledge, and hope.

Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.

Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.

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The Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center Information Specialists are reachable business weekdays, Monday through Friday, toll-free at 800-539-7309 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm Eastern U.S. Time. International callers use 973-467-8270. You may also schedule a call or send a message online.

The information provided in the Paralysis Resource Center was supported by Cooperative Agreement number 1U59DD000838-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the Reeve Foundation and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.