Commentary

08.05.15

Making Government Work: 25 Years of the ADA

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ADA - Americans With Disabilities Act - 25th Anniversary - 1990-2015

With the presidential campaign already underway and the Buckeye State being a favorite stop for candidates, you can expect to hear a lot said about limiting government. At the ACLU, we get that. For more than 90 years we have been working to keep the government out of people’s speech, cell phones, and personal medical decisions.

But it also is important to remember the times when politicians have heard and seen the needs of the people and come together to make positive changes in the lives of everyday Americans. The 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act is a perfect example.

The Land of Opportunity

On July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. This groundbreaking piece of legislation changed the landscape of public spaces in America and opened opportunities that had been previously closed to people with disabilities.

One in five Americans have a disability. But before the ADA, people with disabilities could be paid less for the same job—if they were hired at all, refused service at restaurants, or excluded from public transit. Many faced social and physical segregation from libraries, polling places, and government buildings. Because of this historic legislation, millions of Americans now have legal grounds to challenge discrimination they may face in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Marchers at Cincinnati ADA Celebration - July 2015

Demanding Recognition

It’s critical to realize that the ADA didn’t come through the simple goodwill of elected officials.  While you likely never heard about it in school, the disability rights movement was one of the most significant social movements in American history. For decades disability rights activists formed coalitions, made demands, and took action to force those in power to acknowledge their claims to equality.

This movement saw one of its proudest moment in the spring of 1977 when activists staged a 25-day sit-in inside the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) building in San Francisco.  This action led the secretary of HEW to endorse Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which laid the groundwork for the ADA. Disability rights activists made access and inclusion an issue that those in power could not ignore.

Making it Work

Follow other events from the 25th Anniversary of the ADA at the ADA Legacy Project.

Through concerted demands and unrelenting pressure, disability rights activists pushed elected officials to do something that seems so rare in the current political climate. The ADA was supported by both parties, and continues to have positive effects on the lives of millions of Americans. It’s through continued pressure from activists that barriers for people with disabilities continue to fall.

Cincinnati ADA Celebration - ACLU Table - July 2015

This is why we traveled the state in July to celebrate 25 years of disability rights for the American people. We talked with people about their voting rights and encouraged them to take an active role in their local elections. Because government can work, if you participate and make it happen.

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