Twenty-one Years with the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Posted on July 27, 2011 by Megan Burke
Twenty-one years ago members of Congress and President Bush passed the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). They supported the ADA because they understood it to be about upholding the civil rights of fellow Americans. Our leaders weren’t just doing something nice for folks with disabilities, but wanted to ensure that people with disabilities had access to public goods and services to participate in society and live the lives they choose.
This civil rights victory for the disability community did not come easily. It was not just handed down to us. The community organized around the nation led by leaders like Justin Dart who traveled the country collecting stories of discrimination and civil rights violations. Letter writing campaigns and marches were organized. People wrote Congress sharing stories of employment discrimination, not being able to access businesses and government buildings, requesting accommodations such as interpreters and being denied, not having access to public transportation, etc.
It is because of the work of past disability rights advocates that we now have public buses with lifts. Can you believe there is a generation of people with disabilities who have never known a public bus without a lift? Thank you ADA! It is because of advocacy that people with disabilities can access public buildings, find accessible housing, and get around town safely using sidewalks and curb cuts. Thank you ADA! People with disabilities have the right to reasonable accommodation in the workplace and can fight employer discrimination. Thank you ADA! Because of the Olmstead decision to uphold the ADA, people with disabilities have the right to receive services in the least restrictive environment meaning people have the right to services in the community and can’t be forced into an institution. Thank you ADA!
One could almost picture the blue skies, bright sun, and birds singing. . . .everything is perfect, right? Not so fast. I think we could all agree that things are much better . . . our communities are more accessible. As like everything else, however, ensuring the civil rights of people with disabilities is an ongoing process. The ADA must be enforced, and our communities must be held accountable. Recent ADA victories which stand out in my mind include installation of curb cuts along Lindbergh in St. Louis County and MO HealthNet funding incontinence supplies. It might have taken several attempts, but the curb cuts were finally done correctly because advocates were armed with the ADA. It is because advocates had the ADA and the Olmstead decision that MO HealthNet must fund incontinence supplies for adults.
Armed with our civil rights law, the disability community can fight for justice and must fight for justice so future generations can participate in their communities without facing the same barriers and discrimination.