The Americans with Disabilities Act is a law, not a suggestion
by Kimberly Tissot
The disability community celebrates an Independence Day outside of the July 4th. That day is July 26, 1990, the day President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law.
We call this our Independence Day because, for the first time, it provided Americans with disabilities equal access and rights in society. The ADA gave us the same rights that non-disabled people often take for granted, like the rights to live in the community, work in integrated environments, access public services and information, and so much more.
The ADA also provides rights to a wider range of people than many realize. The law protects anyone with physical, psychiatric, visual, hearing, and/or intellectual disabilities, as well as anyone with a health condition (like HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, or asthma). It also protects anyone with a record of having a disability, even if they currently do not, and anyone who is regarded as having a disability. All of this is to say that the ADA encompasses a large portion of the population (almost 20%, to be exact).
Despite ADA, discrimination continues
We have so much to celebrate every July 26. But that celebration comes with a certain sting: people with disabilities still face discrimination every single day—from businesses, from employers, from healthcare providers, and more.
It’s easy to think that with the passage of a law, the work is done, that accessibility is resolved. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Many businesses and organizations discriminate against people with disabilities without even knowing it.
That could look like a storefront with only a stair entrance or ramps so steep or narrow, they do not comply with physical accessibility standards. It could be an employer refusing to accommodate an employee who needs adapted equipment to do their job effectively. That could be a press conference that does not include an American Sign Language interpreter or live-captioning.
Discrimination also occurs with attitudes. People with disabilities often get judged solely by misperceptions of what others think we are capable of. What others don’t know is that people with disabilities are capable of a lot when our rights to access and accommodations are respected. The problem isn’t our capabilities; it’s the barriers we face everywhere in society.
This problem is two-fold: the ADA is only enforceable upon complaint (meaning someone has to notice that you are violating the ADA and report it to the Department of Justice); and many companies think accessibility is a suggestion or a luxury, not a basic human right.
This line of thinking from noncompliant businesses and communities just perpetuates unfair stereotypes and normalizes the discrimination of disabled people. Claiming lack of awareness or knowledge of the ADA can no longer be an excuse for not adhering to it when it has been around for over 30 years.
The bottom line
The disabled community is now saying enough is enough. Government, businesses, and the general community have had 30 years to respect our rights. Disability is one of the largest minority groups in the country, yet we struggle daily just to access the businesses and services we need to survive and thrive. We still must fight daily to be seen as more than an inconvenience.
Actually, it’s an inaccessible society that has been the inconvenience all along.
Please think about accessibility as you go about your day. Once you start noticing barriers to access, you’ll start to see them everywhere. With awareness comes change. Change the world with us.