Realizing the Full Vision of The Americans with Disabilities Act

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on July 23, 2020 # Advocacy and Policy

By Kim Beer, Director, Public Policy, Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation

As the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates 30 years, we reflect on this remarkable triumph. We honor years of grassroots-led advocacy that compelled Congress to pass the landmark civil rights legislation that integrated people with disabilities into all aspects of society, and the exceptionally bipartisan efforts that led to this achievement.

The ADA marks the first time that the exclusion and segregation of people with disabilities was viewed as discrimination and that a law was established to ensure full and equal access to transportation, employment, schools, telecommunications, and all places that are open to the public, including health care services and facilities. It’s hard to fathom today that until just 30 years ago there was no legal recourse for even a baseline of equality. That barely a generation ago, equal opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for all for persons with disabilities was not promised. Kim Beer article quote: "Much remains to be accomplished to realize the ADA's vision of full inclusion. The Reeve Foundation is dedicated to working with government and industry to finally advance the current minimums of the ADA. Until the law is fully actualized and takes into account diverse perspectives, discrimination continues and the costs are too high a burden to bear."

But much remains to be done to fully realize the ADA’s vision.

Consider a few examples in the medical arena:

  • People with disabilities face disparities in receipt of preventative care, have more difficulty finding doctors and securing appointments, and have greater general unmet needs.[i]
  • A series of studies and surveys[ii] have found that the share of primary care and specialty offices which have accessible medical diagnostic equipment (MDE), weight scales, examination tables, and diagnostic imaging equipment used for medical diagnosis and treatment purposes, is inadequate relative to the need and demand.

Workplaces must also do more to be inclusive and employment is an area ripe for critical examination, especially in light of lessons that America’s employers have gained during the COVID-19 pandemic about flexibility for all employees. Improved policies are needed to allow people living with disabilities to maintain federal and state benefits and work without an income threshold. Without better policies, people living with disabilities are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to those without a disability[iii], and face obstacles such as:

  • Assumptions about the capabilities or presumed lack thereof that are barriers to successful employment.
  • Some employers still struggle to understand and provide reasonable accommodations.

Furthermore, policymakers continue to make decisions about reforming our economy and our society that ignore gig work, one of the fastest growing industries and a sector that currently does little to accommodate people with disabilities. These services, like ride and house sharing, present access challenges, such as wheelchair accessibility.

Though the ADA does not apply to commercial airlines, the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) prohibits disability-based discrimination in air travel, but barriers remain.

  • Prior to the ACAA, passengers living with disabilities often encountered policies that varied among carriers and even among flights on the same airline. Carriers frequently did not aid passengers with disabilities in a timely manner and, in addition, often required people with disabilities to travel with companions.[iv]
  • As a result of the ACAA, air travel for passengers living with disabilities has improved though challenges persist.
  • For example, no policies ensure that new planes meet standards for safe and effective boarding and deplaning, visually accessible announcements, seating accommodations, lavatories, and better stowage options for assistive devices. Further, there is no mechanism for referral of certain passenger-filed complaints to the Department of Justice and establishment of private right of action.

These examples are merely illustrative of the work that remains to fully achieve ADA goals. The Reeve Foundation is working with Congress, private companies such as Airbnb, and other nonprofits and advocacy groups, including Paralyzed Veterans of America and United Spinal Association, to improve equality and services for all.

Together, we will continue to advocate for accessibility in transportation, travel, employment, architecture that prioritizes universal design, medical facilities, and adequately trained providers of care. Until the ADA is fully actualized and takes into account diverse perspectives, discrimination continues and the costs – in dollars left on the table by industries that leave out people living with disabilities and in expenses to our social and health services, and most importantly in the dignity of our community members – are too high a burden to bear.


[i] https://acl.gov/news-and-events/acl-blog/x-rays-meet-ada-making-case-accessible-health-care

[ii] https://acl.gov/sites/default/files/Aging%20and%20Disability%20in%20America/MDE%20Fact%20Sheet%20Final.docx

[iii] https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/disabl.pdf

[iv] https://pva-cdnendpoint.azureedge.net/prod/libraries/media/pva/library/pdfs/air-carrier-access-act-(acaa)-myths-and-facts.pdf