July is a month of celebration. The Fourth of July holiday acknowledges the independence of the United States, complete with fireworks and picnics honoring our country’s founding roots. What a great heritage gifted to the millions of individuals who have benefited, and continue to benefit, from the hands of those who brought about the freedoms that we now enjoy. I wasn’t even a gleam in my Daddy’s eye in 1776, but I am today a recipient of the struggles, the sacrifices, and the advantages that others have made in the continuing history of the United States of America. And even though my children did not take part in the Revolutionary War, they are able to enjoy the fruit of those who did.
July is also the anniversary of the passing of the ADA! On July 26, 1990, President George H. Bush signed into law this major civil rights law recognizing that some within our communities were not able to exercise the very freedoms that our country was founded upon. A lot of hard work went on behind the scenes before President Bush put pen to paper. Because of the farsightedness of those within the disability community, the lives of every person has been or will be affected because of the ADA. As we age, research shows that you will experience disability in some way, and at some point in the future. The question is not if, but when and how! This could be a personal disability, or someone close to you that acquires a disability. Isn’t it nice to know that there is a law in place that provides equal access to our communities, no matter our age or abilities?
There was a time when someone with a disability was relegated to the ‘backseat’ of public life. Here are some instances of once accepted inequities:
- Students who were deaf were banned from using sign language to communicate (and were punished by tying their hands if caught);
- A group of children with intellectual disabilities were not allowed in a local zoo for fear of upsetting the primate population;
- A woman who had recovered from cancer was fired and then denied other jobs because of the employer’s concern that the cancer would return;
- A young woman fresh out of high school with a controlled seizure disorder was given a job that was then withdrawn because they “didn’t hire people who had seizures.”
And, all these things were perfectly legal! The list of discrimination goes on and on.
Fortunately, the ADA has changed the face of our nation. Thanks to the ADA, the built environment has become more usable; public services provide effective communication methods for people who are blind or deaf; testing accommodations are available for students with learning disabilities; employees/jobseekers with disabilities can compete equally in the workforce; kids with disabilities can attend the same school as their siblings without disabilities.
Research shows that there is implicit bias against people with disabilities that unconsciously influences the public’s attitude and behavior. Perhaps the most important result of the ADA is that the perception of disability has also transformed. Instead of feeling pity for someone with a disability, the public has begun to understand that disability is just another piece of the puzzle called ‘life’. There is a realization that a person with quadriplegia that uses a wheelchair is just as capable of earning a living as someone who stands on their own legs. The use of a wheelchair doesn’t make a person less valuable to society; the use of a wheelchair enables a person to contribute their unique part to society.
Yes, there is more that needs to be accomplished to live in a barrier free country. Just as the Civil Rights Act has not been fully realized, the ADA is an ongoing marathon that will never actually cross the finish line. The good news is that the race continues! And I for one am thankful and proud that our society endeavors to make life better for everyone. Happy Independence to All!
Check out these resources for celebrating the ADA Anniversary:
ADA Anniversary: www.ADAAnniversary.org
Timeline of the ADA: https://adata.org/ada-timeline
Ideas for Disability Awareness Events: https://www.adaanniversary.org/ideas-celebrate-ada
For further study:
Implicit Bias – The Rocky Mountain ADA Center provides comprehensive training on this subject
ADA PARC - Community and Work Participation Disparities for People with Disabilities Research Project