Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

July 25, 2015

On July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will celebrate its 25th anniversary. The ADA is regarded as the world’s first comprehensive equal opportunity act for people living with disabilities. The United States’ action on this issue influenced the international community, and other countries began enacting their own legislation shortly after the passage of the ADA.

Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, the ADA:

        • Prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and guarantees equal opportunity for people living with disabilities.
        • Defines having a disability as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.
        • The ADA recognizes those living with physical and mental disabilities as full-fledged citizens entitled to legal protections and equal opportunities to access mainstream American life. Moreover, the ADA allows people living with disabilities to realize their full potential for productivity and to positively contribute as integrated members of society.
        • The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 made changes to the ADA definition of disability to restore the Act’s coverage to people with disabilities, including those that might be mitigated by such things as assistive technology or prescription medication.

          Improving the Lives of Americans with Disabilities

          Many Americans living with disabilities credit the ADA with improving their quality of life. In the 25 years since its enactment, the ADA has helped bring down barriers to access for individuals with disabilities. Barrier-free access is now seen as a right, and legal action can be taken to enforce this right. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services and telecommunications. The ADA has played a major role in ensuring access for people with disabilities in both public and private spaces and promotes the equal opportunity, independence and full participation of people with disabilities in society. Moreover, the enactment of the ADA has dramatically improved public attitudes towards people with disabilities, substantially improving the lives of those who live with disabilities.

The ADA has positively impacted the lives of over 57 million Americans living with disabilities, including many of our nation’s veterans. Young adults and children have only ever known a world that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantees them the same opportunities as all other citizens.

Here are just a few of the many ways the ADA has expanded access for people with disabilities:

Moving Forward

Although the ADA is responsible for significant advancements for the civil rights of people with disabilities, activists in the community are still working to achieve greater equality for people living with disabilities. Some areas currently receiving attention are improving representation in the workforce, accessible housing and air travel. The ADA has laid the groundwork for further success in guaranteeing equal rights for Americans living with disabilities.

            • Consumer access: People with disabilities now have greater access to goods and services provided by private businesses, the government and their communities.
            • Public access: Improvements to physical access brought about by the ADA can be observed on a daily basis. Many street corners have curb cuts to allow people who use wheelchairs to cross streets, more buses and trains have automatic lifts, more buildings have automatic doors and service animals are more widely accepted in public and private spaces.
            • Technology access: There is now a greater availability of more affordable, assistive technology for people with disabilities.
            • Employment access: the ADA has improved the role of people with disabilities in the workforce. Today, although many challenges to employment remain, Americans with disabilities received more accommodations and are less likely to be terminated due to their disability.

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