Emily Shuman: Marking the 30th anniversary of the ADA

(Barry Thumma | AP file photo) In this Dec. 20, 1989, photo, President George H.W. Bush addresses the nation on television from the Oval Office.

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on the South Lawn of the White House.

The ADA came to fruition through a collaborative effort of both Democrats and Republicans, as well as citizens with and without disabilities. As the nation’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities, the act represents a historical milestone in fulfilling America’s commitment to full and equal opportunity for all citizens.

Bush declared that the enactment of the ADA will ensure that people with disabilities have “independence, freedom of choice, control of their own lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”

This year marks 30 years since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Around the ADA anniversary, we reflect on the positive impacts the law has had on the lives of people with disabilities and on our country. We are once again reminded of the American ideal that cherishes contributions that individuals make when free from arbitrary, unjust or outdated societal attitudes and practices that prevent the realization of their potential. The act reflects a recognition that diversity and inclusion of everyone is the surest path to America’s continued vitality, strength, and vibrancy.

The ADA mandates non-discrimination and is intended “to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.” It gives people with disabilities legal recourse when they feel they have suffered discrimination and can be used to compel businesses to prioritize accessibility. If not for the ADA, today’s America would surely look much different.

While the nation has come a long way, there is still much to be done before we reach full implementation of the ADA. For some, the ADA anniversary is fraught, because it brings into focus the act’s shortcomings. Even after 30 years, there is still an astonishing number of access issues that persist despite the law. Many of these issues exist because America has changed dramatically over the last three decades, especially regarding technology.

The final title of the Americans with Disabilities Act, dubbed “Miscellaneous,” contains one of the most important requirements: the provision of technical assistance to assist in implementation of the law. As a result, there are currently 10 regional technical assistance centers and a knowledge translation center comprising the ADA National Network. These centers are tasked with providing guidance to individuals and institutions concerning rights and responsibilities as outlined in the Act.

The Rocky Mountain ADA Center provides technical assistance services to Salt Lake City and the entire state of Utah, as well as Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and North and South Dakota.

The staff at the RMADAC helps everyone that contacts them understand their rights and/or responsibilities under the ADA, as it applies to each unique situation. The ADA is descriptive, rather than prescriptive. That is to say that the ADA provides a description of what success in non-discrimination and equal access looks like but doesn’t outline the steps to get there.

This July, we relish the opportunity to express our gratitude for the freedom and protection afforded to people with disabilities by the Americans with Disabilities Act, while recognizing the work yet to be done. We appeal to the ADA Generation – those that have come of age with the ADA already in place – to share their own stories of how they have successfully leveraged the Act to their benefit.

More information about the Rocky Mountain ADA Center’s services can be found at RockyMountainADA.org. To find out what the ADA National Network is doing to celebrate the ADA and how you can participate, go to ADAAnniversary.org.

Emily Shuman

Emily Shuman is deputy director of the Rocky Mountain ADA Center.

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