by Paul Edwards
On July 26, 1990, there was a huge ceremony at the White House. A huge number of people with disabilities were invited to witness the signing into law of the first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. I think it is fair to say that people with disabilities felt that a new era of inclusion and equality was dawning.
Thirty years later, the ADA is hardly discussed. Many feel that it has failed to live up to the expectations we had for it and clearly many are sad that we are not further along than we are a generation after its passage.
The media have done their best to paint the ADA as a huge boondoggle that people with disabilities have tried to take advantage of because we are selfish and greedy. Many companies who began as champions of the legislation have backed away from their support because many of their customers have begun to have negative notions of the ADA. There are those who would suggest that we have nothing to celebrate on this the 30th anniversary of the ADA.
I am not one of those people and there are good reasons. First and foremost, once you say to a huge group of people that they have rights, you can’t unsay that! We are told in the preamble of the ADA that we have been discriminated against forever and that it is not OK! More than that, we are told that we have the right to expect to be treated as full citizens of the United States, not as second-class citizens who should expect to feel inferior.
The second thing the ADA has done is to mandate a lot of training. Whether employees of state and local governments liked it or not, they had to learn about disabilities and about the people who have them. I believe that is a huge advantage. If people without disabilities are asked and required to learn more about those of us who have disabilities, it cannot help but narrow the misunderstanding gap that has forever created a chasm between our two groups.
So, on the 26th of July, 2020, I will drink a toast to the ADA. It is an imperfect law and many of the expectations we had are yet to be met. Its affirmation that people with disabilities ought to be treated just like everybody else is powerful, and we need to do a better job of persuading ourselves that we matter. I hope that we will reaffirm the importance of the ADA and that we will do more to push where we can to make enforcement better. We still have a long way to go before we will reach a place where all of our civil rights are protected but, in the meantime, let us celebrate how far we have come and pledge to go further!