Assistive Technology 25 Years After The ADA

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on August 05, 2015 # Advocacy and Policy

As the nation celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the ACL blog is featuring guest posts from leaders in the disability community.

By Marty Exline, Director, Missouri Assistive Technology

It is hard to believe that the ADA is turning 25! We’ve seen such amazing changes in those 25 years; it’s not easy to fully appreciate how far we’ve come and the law’s incredible impact.

While we’re celebrating the ADA, let’s celebrate the role of assistive technology (AT) in advancing the goals of the ADA in all areas of public and private life. It’s actually a two-way street—the existence of the ADA expanded the demand for AT and sped the development of newer and better technology.

The ADA and 1999 Olmstead decision also raised the bar for home and community based services (HCBS). In 1995, HCBS accounted for 20% of Medicaid long-term care expenditures; by 2011, that figure had grown to 45%.

The network of 56 federally-funded state AT Programs has witnessed these incredible advancements and they’ve collaborated to improve access to and acquisition of AT for hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities.

Some of us can remember AT in the years after the ADA was signed into law.

The Internet was in its infancy and a 1995 Newsweek article called the promise of the Internet “baloney.” Around this time there were some early computer access “innovations.” For example, if you wanted a computer with synthesized speech, you could get a sound card (as long as the computer you purchased came with the extra slot for the external card). And there was the development of add-on computer packages providing access to innovations like “sticky keys.”

Early environmental control units that could turn a lamp and a few other electrical devices on and off could cost $1,600 or more. Today, through home automation technology, you can control your lights, fans, and HVAC; wash your clothes; cook your dinner; unlock your door; manage medications; monitor health; and much more. And the cost is often less than that of the technology available in the 1990s.

Augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices were big boxes that cost at least twice as much as some tablet AAC options available today. Speech recognition software was not available to most consumers in the early 1990s, and what was available had discreet word, not continuous speech, functionality. And video magnifiers (CCTVs) were available in limited and bulky sizes, and none of them had any OCR text recognition capabilities.

Assistive technology has made “reasonable accommodations” easier to achieve in employment. It has made home and community based services more available in long term care. And yes, it has even allowed businesses to have more accessible sites on that Internet fad thing that seems to still be around.

Have we fully realized the promise of the ADA? No, there are definitely still gaps, as there are in the assistive technology that will help us get there.

But, WOW! We’ve come a long way and you have to be excited about where the ADA and AT will take us by the time the ADA turns 30!

As with all guest contributions to the ACL website, this blog reflects the experiences and thoughts of the author. Find more information about guest content on the ACL site.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.