The Americans with Disabilities Act became law 25 years ago today
July 26, 2015 5:46 PM   Subscribe

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

NPR has produced a 25th-anniversary series on the ADA, The Americans with Disabilities Act at 25, which includes the following segments:

From Canes To Closures, Designing With Style For People With Disabilities

How A Law To Protect Disabled Americans Became Imitated Around The World

In Helping Those With Disabilities, ADA Improves Access For All

Why Disability And Poverty Still Go Hand In Hand 25 Years After Landmark Law

Ben Mattlin, author of Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity penned an op-ed in today's New York Times in which he says "Back then, I was only marginally aware that I could be — or even had been — discriminated against."

The late Marta Russell argued: "Those in charge settled for less than what we needed to get the results that we hoped for. George Bush used the Republican leadership of the disability movement to quiet down the grassroots, who were really hurting at the bottom. He insisted on a weak law, and he got it! Bush only extended as many rights as necessary to extinguish the fire. Many compromises were made that should have been rejected [...] The Republicans insisted that no health care reform provisions be included in the ADA."

Other ADA links:

Why I wrote the Americans with Disabilities Act

ADA 25 Chicago

NYT - The Americans With Disabilities Act, 25 Years Later

US Department of Labor - Employers and the ADA: Myths and Facts

The ADA previously on Metafilter:

20 Years of the ADA

The Wheels of (the Department of) Justice Turn Slowly

NFB v. Target: Web Accessibility and business
posted by mandolin conspiracy (18 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

I have worked in the Assistive space in Canada, and let me tell you: the ADA was a very big deal for setting standards internationally. I am almost willing to call the rest of GHWB's presidency a wash because of how important this one thing was for ensuring a good quality of life for people with disabilities worldwide.
posted by 256 at 8:30 PM on July 26, 2015 [10 favorites]

Yep. This was a big fucking deal, and something I'm really proud of the U.S. for.
posted by persona au gratin at 8:48 PM on July 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Great post!
posted by persona au gratin at 8:48 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Looking at the wikipedia page, it passed 76-8 in the senate and unanimously in the house. It's hard to imagine such a thing coming out of congress today. And then to be signed by a Republican president. Amazing.
posted by octothorpe at 9:05 PM on July 26, 2015 [6 favorites]

Back when I first read about the history of the fight to get the ADA passed, it was incredibly eye-opening. The ADA predates my political consciousness enough that it feels like something that was just "always there," and unlike the civil rights movement, I wasn't ever taught anything about it in school.

It didn't fix the stigma disabilities carry, and there are still ongoing issues, but what an incredible thing to have accomplished for the people who did it.
posted by sparkletone at 11:32 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

It always amazes me that the Air Carrier Access Act was passed first in 1986. It is the ADA for plane travel.

I have worked in construction, and I know a lot of times the adaptations for ADA cost a lot of money. (Making all door handles ADA compliant at my 7000 student university had a cost estimate of $750,000.) But it helps everyone, in ways we barely ever notice.
posted by Monday at 11:38 PM on July 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Wow, only 25 yrs old! Incredible!
posted by discopolo at 12:45 AM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

The ADA predates my political consciousness enough that it feels like something that was just "always there," and unlike the civil rights movement, I wasn't ever taught anything about it in school.

I'm 28, which puts me squarely in "the ADA generation". I've heard Senator Harkin (who coined the phrase) speak about it a few times, about how the ADA generation is those of us who are young enough to have always had the ADA there, to have grown up believing we have the right to be, to be out in our communities just as we are. It's a powerful idea, but there's another interpretation I've heard mostly from people who identify as the ADA generation: we're the kids who came of age alongside the ADA. Who, when we were children, saw the very first attempts to implement it, when maybe it wasn't taken entirely as seriously as it is today. Who saw it start to have more force, to be interpreted as applying to more and more spheres of American public spaces. Who've fought alongside our predecessor generations to make that happen! To, today, when even if most people may not know exactly how the law functions, or what its boundaries are, have at least a vague idea that access is a civil right, and that people with disabilities are here, part of the American people. We grew up; the ADA grew up; and we came of age together.

I had a conversation with a friend at work about the history of disability as a politics, as a civil rights movement, and was pretty surprised when he suggested it had been part of the New Deal - it's much more recent than that, of course! But it really does speak to how it has become an assumed part of American law.

It always amazes me that the Air Carrier Access Act was passed first in 1986. It is the ADA for plane travel.

Yes! I was blown away when I realized that. (Compliance is still pretty crappy, and I feel like we might be overdue for a second pass at a law protecting access rights for passengers ... but on the other hand, I fly a lot. And I can do that; I remember - post ACAA and ADA, but when they were less 'mature' than they are today - how bad it used to be to fly with a wheelchair.)

Here's to 25 years of the ADA. Here's to the activists and advocates and visionaries who got us the ADA, and the ACAA, and IDEA. To the utter badasses who got us Section 504 of the Rehab Act, and the allied groups that supported that demonstration ("includ[ing] the Butterfly Brigade, "a group of gay men who patrolled city streets on the lookout for gay violence," who smuggled walkie-talkies into the occupied building; Glide Church; local and national labor organizations; members of Delancey Street, the famous grassroots rehab program for substance abusers and former felons, who brought breakfast into the building each day; the Chicano group Mission Rebels, who also provided food; and the Black Panthers, who publicly endorsed the action and provided hot dinners for the duration of the sit-in").

And here's to the work that lies ahead - among other things, the rights of parents with disabilities; better access to local, national, and international transportation; getting more people out of institutions; healthcare that doesn't force people into poverty.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 1:22 AM on July 27, 2015 [13 favorites]

I just read the Marta Russel interview. Gay rights used to be my pet "thing", but now that that battle is won-ish (yes I know there's still a lot to do and I'll contribute where I can, but I'm far away and most of what I can do is yell and donate), I think I have a new hobby horse.

"Russell: Public accommodations have definitely gotten better over the years. I focus on employment issues because to me, the success or failure of the ADA is linked with improving disabled people’s economic condition. We have the highest poverty rate of any minority. Our employment rate has actually declined since 1986, when one in three persons with a disability were employed. Now, only three in ten working-age adults with disabilities are employed, full or part time ,compared to eight in ten non-disabled adults. And seven out of ten say that they would prefer to be working. So it’s obvious that we didn’t get enough from the ADA to jolt us out of this historical unemployment predicament. The assumption that people with disabilities cannot do the job remains a huge obstacle." <--Unacceptable.
posted by saysthis at 1:23 AM on July 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

Since only eight votes went against, I thought I'd look up who those people were.

Armstrong (R-CO), Nay
Bond (R-MO), Nay
Garn (R-UT), Nay
Helms (R-NC), Nay
Humphrey (R-NH), Nay
McClure (R-ID), Nay
Symms (R-ID), Nay
Wallop (R-WY), Nay
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:11 AM on July 27, 2015 [4 favorites]

Helms (R-NC), Nay

*clutches pearls*

Quel surprise.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:10 AM on July 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Oh Kit Bond; I had to write him a letter about protecting the environment when I was in 5th grade and I have an impressive piece of contentless form letter that I got in response somewhere in my basement.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:39 PM on July 27, 2015

Just the other day, I learned about the "Capitol Crawl":
The ADA was passed by the Senate the year before but as finding complications getting through the House of Representatives. Over 1,000 protesters came from 30 states to protest the Act’s delay.

After the day’s rally and speeches, over 60 activists abandoned their wheelchairs and mobility devices and began crawling the 83 stone steps up to the U.S. Capitol Building. During which people were loudly chanting “What do we want?” “ADA!” “When do we want it?” “NOW!” Other activists remained at the bottom holding signs and giving encouragement to the crawlers.

Michael Winters, a leader in the Independent Living Movement, later wrote about event and the reaction people had to the crawl. “Some people may have thought that it was undignified for people in wheelchairs to crawl in that manner, but I felt that it was necessary to show the country what kinds of things people with disabilities have to face on a day-to-day basis,” Winters recalled.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 5:17 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

It is absolutely amazing to me that the ADA is only 25. How could we have let such a fundamental piece of legislature wait so long? I always assumed its passage came during the triumphs of the Civil Rights era--other laws of that era are a match in both timeliness and spirit.

There's no question that the ADA is a law that I'm grateful for nearly every day and I am not actually a person with disabilities. Most assuredly, my friends and colleagues who are disabled would find the US a much harder place to navigate without it. It's no panacea and there is definitely work to be done but it's still very worth celebrating.
posted by librarylis at 7:44 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a disabled woman, I am happy for this. However, we have so very, very far to go.

So much of the world is cut off from those of us with mobility issues. Until just a couple months ago I couldn't get into the one courthouse in my county. While they would come out to my car for services, I couldn't get into it for other reasons.

A shiny new courthouse was built and it should be entirely accessible. I will visit it the first time in September (for a case I am covering for the local paper.)

I live in a very historic area (George Washington, James Monroe, and Robert E Lee were all born here.) Due to the age of so many things around here they are not accessible. It sucks that historic sites don't add some accessibility for us.
posted by SuzySmith at 10:43 PM on July 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

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