On July 26, 2015, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 25! To celebrate this occasion, I want to share my thoughts about this monumental law.
When the ADA became law in 1990, I was only a child. Therefore I do not know what it was like without employment protections and more accessible transportation. Nonetheless, I am certain that the ADA has brought about important changes. Now, wide doorways for wheelchair users, braille signage for the blind, sign language interpreters for the deaf and more access to places of public accommodation are mandatory.
Despite these gains, though, there is still room for improvement. As President Obama said in his July 20 speech about the ADA:
“Now, days like today are a celebration of our history. But they’re also a chance to rededicate ourselves to the future — to address the injustices that still linger, to remove the barriers that remain.”
One of the barriers specified by Mr. Obama is the number of people with disabilities in the workforce. In my view, a key for bringing down this barrier is the Workforce Innovation And Opportunity Act of 2014. One of the requirements of this law is that a certain percentage of dollars sent to vocational rehabilitation agencies across the country must be spent on transition-age youth with disabilities. Transition-age refers to teens who are on the threshold of a new world, the time when they are about to graduate high school for either work or college. I think that servicing more youth will enable more young people of the current generation to become employed. That will, in turn, decrease the total number of people with disabilities who do not currently have jobs.
As a person with a disability myself, a barrier I sometimes face is access to web sites. The Internet did not exist when the ADA became law. However, disability advocates and some courts have affirmed that Title 3 of the ADA pertaining to places of public accommodation can apply to web sites. To me, this is great because inaccessible web sites are required to become useable by the disabled community. I understand that the U.S. Justice Department has delayed issuing guidance about web site accessibility. I also realize that the web site accessibility issue is controversial to some extent. Nonetheless, I believe that inaccessible web sites becoming easier for people with disabilities to use is critical. Differently abled individuals can then access the goods and services available on those sites. Equal access for all is also a foundational part of the ADA.
I am confident that the next 25 years will continue the progress already made for greater access and independence. Long live the ADA!