Gotham Gazette

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The Americans with Disabilities Act at 30: How Far We’ve Come and What’s Next


Activists call for accessible transit (photo: @CID_NYLevel)

Thirty years ago we fought for the passage of our civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We celebrate the ADA and what it has helped us achieve. Yet, we know that we still have work to do. Exclusion, discrimination, and inequality are built into every system that affects us and we are more severely affected if we are also Black, Latino, Asian-American, or LGBTQ. We look forward to welcoming the next generation of advocates, born since passage of the ADA. We encourage them to join us in ensuring the full realization of disability rights and justice in the next 30 years.

The Disability Rights and Justice movement, including independent living centers, fought hard for changes to barriers in our daily lives. We’ve won a lot since the ADA was passed in 1990. But, to achieve meaningful change, and to protect our rights we must continue the struggle.

Our actions since 1990 led to: 

Better access to websites for voter registration and absentee ballots for people who are blind and more accessible polling sites and machines for people with all kinds of disabilities. 

Requiring hospitals to provide American Sign Language Interpreters for patients who are Deaf. 

Requiring that city homeless shelters come into compliance with the ADA. 

Including people with disabilities in planning for and responses to disasters.

Requirements for landlords to lower elevator buttons, install braille, add ramps, etc. for tenants with disabilities. 

Accommodating people with disabilities at movie theaters, theaters, and public attractions. 

A fair shake for students with disabilities in a mainstream classroom or when taking college or graduate school exams.

Safer street crossings when curb cuts are put in and comply with the law. 

People with disabilities having lives full of meaning in the community upon leaving institutions.

Employers leveling the playing field at work by providing necessary tools (a different desk, screen reader for the computer, etc.).

But, resistance to change persists. As new laws, regulations, and programs are created, we still see discrimination built into their fabric. And, many times, the issues that affect our lives are still invisible to others.

More changes need to be made. Accessible absentee ballots must work for everyone with a disability; more accessible and affordable housing would help bring people out of shelters and institutions to live in their communities; more elevator access in subways means more people with disabilities can get and keep employment; new buildings complying with ADA standards mean more people with disabilities can get services they need, work and participate in civic life; and better access to appropriate health care means better outcomes and a healthier population. We can ensure that children with disabilities are not denied full services to support learning in the classroom. We must end police killings of Black and Latino people with disabilities and using police to respond to mental health crises.  

Have we achieved a great deal? Yes. Can we do more? We must. We are tired but tireless. We at Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY) will continue to advocate for and work with people with disabilities, and we are fortunate that we have allies to aid us along the way. So today we say happy birthday ADA. You’ve grown up, but you still have a lot of growing to do and a new generation to help make it happen.

Susan Dooha is executive director of Center for Independence of the Disabled, NY (CIDNY). On Twitter @CID_NY.

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