For most people, July 26th of 1990 was just another day, for people who experience disabilities it was a long-awaited day of equality. For decades individuals who experience disabilities, and their allies, have advocated for equal rights for those with disabilities, and on this inconspicuous July day is when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. This landmark law made sure all people have the same rights and opportunities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
Many misunderstand the ADA and think the focus is on the physical access to facilities and places, to “open up all the doors on Main Street”. However, the whole of the law is geared to much more than that! Its purpose is to open up job opportunities, access to higher education beyond the high school level, and higher quality of life to allow people to participate in leisure activities in their own communities.
In 2020, we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the ADA being signed into law. In the past 30 years, advocates and allies have continued to fight the good fight to ensure the law is upheld and people who experience disabilities are able to access what they have a right to access. The mere signing of the law by President George HW Bush did not mean that automatically all people who experience disabilities had the ability to access places they wanted to visit, seek and achieve gainful employment, or participate in leisure activities of their choosing. For example, the law states buildings built after 1990 must be accessible, however, buildings built before this date are difficult or very expensive to update and many property owners fight the law and there have been long-drawn-out court hearings around the need to follow the ADA. Further, the unemployment rate for people who experience disabilities is still terribly high at 80.7% (data from 2019), and many accessible transportation options for people who experience disabilities is limited or non-existent, particularly in rural areas.
The important part of celebrating the ADA is continuing the legacy of change, and the betterment of life for all people, continuing to help self-advocates have a voice and to fight for their rights as the law decrees. Judy Heumann, an American disability rights activist, is quoted saying “Disability only becomes a tragedy for me when society fails to provide the things we need to lead our lives- job opportunities or barrier-free buildings, for example. It is not a tragedy to me that I’m living in a wheelchair.”
At MV Advancements, we celebrate all people and what they offer to their communities. While we have come a long way with disability rights in the past 30 years, we have more work to do. The more people we can support to find and keep a meaningful job, the more community connections and friendships we can help foster, the more we can help people live independent lives, on their own terms, with just the needed supports, the more we will be true to our mission. We continue to raise the bar of what highest potential and a fulfilling life looks like, thanks to this landmark law. The changes created by the ADA have and will continue to empower equality and equal access for all. That is something to celebrate!