Chances are, if you’re a regular reader of Access Granted or you’ve come across it in a search, you already care about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It might surprise you to learn that you’re among the minority as far as that goes. From what I can tell, most people don’t know much about the ADA, if anything. Often, when I tell people I work at the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, they assume the ADA stands for American Dental Association or American Diabetes Association. It’s always striking to me that those three letters aren’t synonymous with disability rights law in the mind of the general public.
The reasons I think we should all share a common knowledge of the ADA might not be what you’d expect. Yes, we should all care about the inclusion of people with disabilities and we all have a part to play in making that happen. Being aware of a civil rights law and its importance is the right thing to do, of course. My opinion, though, is that the real reason you should care is because, more than likely, you’re going to need this law someday.
I’m not trying to be the harbinger of doom, here. Let’s start with the numbers. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 61 million Americans live with disabilities, or around 26% of the population. Now, this number will vary based on who did the research, but the number you generally see is between 20 – 26% of us live with a disability. I could stop there and say you should care about the ADA because if one out of every five people have a disability, you definitely know and care about someone who is directly affected by the law.
There’s more to consider, though. As we age, the prevalence of disability increases. I believe that every single one of us will fit the definition of having a disability at some point in our lives. Some will be fortunate to live a long time identifying as a person without a disability. Many people likely meet the ADA definition of disability and don’t even know it. The ADA defines disability as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a history or record of such an impairment, or being perceived by others as having such an impairment.
Even if you’re convinced you’ll never become disabled by way of illness or aging, you have to factor in the unknown. Any one of us could find ourselves living with a disability today. A car accident, a stroke, an allergy we weren’t aware of; these things can and do happen. Being a person with a disability is the only protected class a person can join at any time.
So, yes, I believe that one way or another every American will become a person with a disability, if they aren’t already. It might be controversial but it’s what I say to people when I invite them to care a little more about the civil rights law that will protect them eventually.
If one day you have to navigate the world while using a wheelchair, you will want the city you live in to have accessible sidewalks and buildings. You’ll care that people park in the access aisle next to an accessible parking spot, preventing you from deploying your chair lift and getting out of your car. If you happen to still be a member of the workforce when you start losing your vision, it will matter to you that your employer is legally required to accommodate you.
I could go on and on, but the point is this: Someday the ADA is going to apply to you directly. Don’t wait until that moment to care. Even the president that signed the ADA into law, George H.W. Bush, ended up benefiting from its protections when he needed a service dog. Now is the time to learn about the rights and responsibilities the ADA affords to every American.