Today, July 26, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 22nd anniversary. After passing with bipartisan support, the ADA was signed by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. The ADA recognizes that full equality requires access and protections for people with disabilities, and the law includes regulations to make this equality a reality, with the teeth to enforce these values.
The work of the ERC’s Disability Rights Program would not be possible without the ADA, and using the ADA we have had major victories, improving access for the disability community. Our work with corporate giants such as CVS, Eye Care Centers of America, and Panera Bread have made their stores more accessible to patrons with disabilities. The ERC has also helped ensure that the government agencies of the District of Columbia comply with the law and provide residents with disabilities with the accommodations needed to take advantage of the available government services.
In just the past week, the ERC’s disability rights staff has relied on the ADA to monitor the accessibility of businesses, advocate on behalf of an individual who could not get into a neighborhood restaurant, review regulations on accessible medical equipment, and educate community members on how to improve access to transportation in the nation’s capital.
While the ADA has made all of this possible, there is still much more to do to ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities.
First, the ADA regulations need to be strengthened. It is inexcusable that public transportation and health care often remain inaccessible to people with disabilities. Regulations that permit exorbitant costs for transportation do not improve access. In addition, regulations that fail to speak to the accessibility of medical equipment negate the whole purpose of visiting medical services providers.
Further, the courts need to honor the ADA by upholding its general legislative principles, even where the regulations are lacking. In 1990, the internet hardly existed; today, it’s a primary form of communication, facilitating job applications, banking, shopping, and social networking. It’s time to recognize that the Internet is a public accommodation that needs to comply with the ADA.
Finally, as a society, we need to better recognize that having a disability is “normal,” and something that we all experience as we grow, age, and live. Disability rights are civil rights that will affect everyone at some point during their lifetime.
Anniversaries are a good time to look at where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, but it is also a reminder of how much remains to be done. Happy anniversary ADA! We hope our efforts here at the ERC help you reach your full potential.