(Image Description: Photo of President George H. W. Bush signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 on the South Lawn of the White House. Evan Kemp and Justin Dart are in wheelchairs beside President Bush. Rev. Harold Wilke and Swift Parrino are standing behind President Bush.)
Post by Nikita Aneja (UCP Intern) and Karin Hitselberger (Public Education Associate)
July 26, 2016, is the 26th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). You’ve probably heard of the ADA, but how much do you actually know about the law and its history? Check out the list below to learn more about America’s most well known piece of disability rights legislation!
1. The ADA may be the most comprehensive disability rights law ever passed, but it wasn’t the first.
When people think about disability rights legislation in the United States, they often immediately think about the ADA. Although the ADA is the most comprehensive piece of disability rights legislation, it wasn’t the first to be signed into law. The Rehabilitation Act, which bans discrimination in the workplace based on disability, was signed into law in 1973.1 And, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which requires public schools to create learning environments for children with disabilities, was signed into law in 1975.2 Both the Rehabilitation Act and IDEA were enacted into law more than a decade before the ADA was passed.
2. People with disabilities, who organized events such as the Capitol Crawl, were a driving force behind the passage of the ADA.
The ADA may have been signed into law by politicians, however, the real drive for the passage of the ADA came from the disability community. On March 12, 1990, over a thousand disability rights activists gathered at the U.S. Capitol to urge the passage of the ADA. During this rally, over 60 activists left their wheelchairs and mobility devices and ascended the steps of the Capitol. Activists of all ages participated, including some as young as eight year old Jennifer Keelan, who has cerebral palsy.3 They wanted to spread awareness about the challenges that people with disabilities face. This event is known as the “Capitol Crawl” and is considered to be a significant factor in the passage of the ADA.
3. The ADA has been amended since it was first passed in 1990.
The ADA we have today is not exactly the same as the law that was passed in1990. President George W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).4 This law clarifies that the definition of ‘disability’ should encompass a broad range of individuals. In order to be protected by the ADA, an individual needs to establish that they have a disability. The ADAAA simplifies this process, making it easier for individuals to establish that they have a disability and receive protection under the ADA.
4. Issues such as education, employment, and voting have their own pieces of disability related legislation in addition to the ADA.
When it comes to education and employment, IDEA and the Rehabilitation Act also offer protection to people with disabilities. IDEA requires public schools to create learning environments for children with disabilities and the Rehabilitation Act bans discrimination in the workplace on the basis of disability.2 In addition, the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act of 1984 requires that polling places in the United States be physically accessible. If they cannot be made accessible, then an alternate method of casting a ballot needs to be made available. Additionally, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, also known as the “Motor Voter Act,” requires state-funded programs that provide services to people with disabilities to make voter-registration forms available, and to aid individuals in completing the forms.2
5. The ADA protects you from disability discrimination whether or not you actually have a disability.
You may think that you have to have a documented disability to be protected under the ADA. However, the ADA protects individuals from discrimination based on a perceived disability. The ADA also protects individuals who are discriminated against due to their association with an individual with a disability.5
Hopefully you learned something you didn’t know about the ADA, but the most important thing to remember is that while the significance of this law should not be overlooked, the ADA is not the end of the story. It is only the beginning.