On July 26th, twenty-six years ago, then President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law:
Bush: “This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities … I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”
In tandem with other disability laws, the landmark legislation prohibits discrimination against disabled people across a range of areas of life, including in education, employment and housing. This means that the law requires educators and employers to provide what is called “reasonable accommodation” to assist disabled people to study and be employed on an equal basis with others. These accommodations can range from offering texts in Braille for a visually impaired student, to providing a higher or lower desk for a worker who uses a wheelchair. U.S. Special Advisor for International Disability Rights Judy Heumann says it is determined on a case-by-case basis:
Heumann: “We know from data that the accommodation that most disabled individuals need is anywhere from nothing to very minimum. A smaller percentage of disabled people will need a higher cost of accommodations. But … what’s very important that employers are realizing is that disabled individuals make good employees.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act and related laws also address aspects of accessible design in various buildings and public transportation. Such features enable persons with disabilities to have access to the same services everyone else does, and therefore better participate in community life.
Heumann, who is herself a wheelchair rider as a result of Polio, says she believes the law can serve as an example worldwide:
“I believe that governments have a responsibility for all of their citizens and that the issue of disability in many countries is highly stigmatized, because in many countries people believe that having a disability is a curse. What’s important is that governments play a leadership role, that governments work with the disability community and with families to really embrace their responsibility to ensure that as their countries are making progress for their population overall, that disabled individuals are not excluded and are not relegated to second-class citizenship.”
The United States continues to work to support human rights for disabled persons worldwide. To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, go to www.ADA.gov