Twenty Years of the ADA

It was twenty years ago today
The ADA came here to stay
Congress tried to go the extra mile
And they reached across that great big aisle

But the courts tried to tear it down
And give us all the run-around
Hooray for the ADA Amendments Act!

(with apologies to the Beatles)

It’s been twenty years since George H.W. Bush signed into law the legislation that was intended to provide protections for disabled Americans. The ADA was one of those few pieces of legislation that enjoyed overwhelming bipartisan support. It was a very bright day in the disability community, and hopes were high for what the ADA could accomplish in the lives of everyday Americans.

After years of the courts chipping away at the ADA, the disabled community again had reason to rejoice in 2008 with the passage of the ADA Amendments Act. This act restored Congress’ original intent of extending civil rights protections to disabled folks. We shall see the long-term impact of the ADAAA, but it looks promising. It directly refuted several of the Supreme Court’s detrimental rulings, and more broadly defined who is in this protected class. The ADAAA shifted the focus from what a disability is (which the courts worked so hard to restrict), to individuals with disabilities being granted equal access. This focus feels much more just, since no other group of citizens eligible for protection has to prove themselves as being in a protected class.

At UALR, the new residence hall is being built with all accessible rooms. Disabled students can live on any floor they choose. That is equal access. This plus many other examples I see here and around the country show me that we are making progress. It’s important for us all to recognize those who work to reduce barriers in the environments for which they are responsible. This includes business, schools, government, social service agencies, universities, places of worship, the internet, and individuals. Designing all environments with everyone in mind should be the new normal. Let’s make it so.

I don’t really want to stop the post,
But I’ve said what matters the most.
And I changed the lyrics of the song
For us to talk about what’s right and wrong
So now it’s time to say adieu
But first I want to say to you
Good design is what we need to do!

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