Almost a quarter century later, the fight for equal rights and freedom from segregation continues.
This Saturday (July 26) marks the 24th anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In some ways, the ceremonial signing of the ADA marked the culmination of decades of advocacy to secure equal rights for people with disabilities. In other ways, it was just the beginning.
Passing a law does not automatically change pre-conceived notions of other people’s ability or worth. Economic interests in maintaining segregated environments may fight to maintain their prerogatives. Courts that are sensitive to business interests may interpret laws narrowly to limit their benefit to disabled workers. Governments that are more sensitive to public prejudice and publically-funded employees than to civil rights may be slow to act.
That is why, 24 years after the ADA became law, we are still in the thick of the fight to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public. As we do so, the stated goals of the ADA remain our vision: equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.
This is a battle for all Americans and for like-minded people around the globe. The concept of “reasonable accommodation” is important for all people, not just individuals with disabilities. There may be people whose abilities perfectly match societal norms, but they are rare. Most of us need some small change in environment, policies or practices in order to function in life. Simple, individualized modifications (like alternations to a suit off the rack) let us all be more productive, involved and satisfied. The ADA is American to the core: it increases social benefit through honoring individuality.
As we near a quarter century of work to make the promise of the ADA a reality, let us rededicate ourselves to evolving our society to one that truly provides equal opportunity, access and choice.