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Written by: Marketing
11 years ago

by Rosemary Musachio and Debra Ruh

This month we celebrate the 21st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was created with the intention of opening doors wide—literally and figuratively—for persons with disabilities, but has it been successful? The ADA should allow persons who use wheelchairs to go into buildings without asking someone to help them up or down steps. The ADA should allow persons with communication impairments to make calls independently. Because of the ADA, employers should accommodate employees with vision loss by providing screen readers and other assistive technologies (AT). Persons who cannot reach or wait at a bus stop due to a disability should have access to door-to-door transportation. People with disabilities should be welcome in all restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, offices, court houses, apartments and other venues. Plus, everyone should have access to online banking, shopping, media and news services, social media, gaming and any other online resources.

Has the disability landmark law succeeded in all it set out to accomplish? Yes and no. The rest of this blog post will explain the dubious answer.

So what is the ADA? The American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA) was created in 1990. The ADA is a law that was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1990. It was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush, and later amended with changes effective January 1, 2009. Then on July 23, 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder signed final regulations revising the Department’s ADA regulations, including its ADA Standards for Accessible Design. The final rules went into effect on March 15, 2011.

Many have lauded it as possibly one of the single greatest legislative advancements for people with disabilities in our nation’s history. The ADA helped give hope to not only Americans with disabilities but to people all over the world. Why? If we can include people with disabilities in every aspect of society maybe other countries will adopt similar legislation. We still have a long way to go but we have accomplished a lot in 21 years.

The ADA is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.

Why did we need the Amendment? A series of court decisions chipped away at the legislative intent of ADA and many felt that it prevented the law from achieving the desired goals to include people with disabilities in every aspect of society. In 2008, President George W. Bush signed revisions to the law to ensure that it fulfills its intent – to open the doors to the workplace more widely for people with disabilities so they can compete on a level playing field and enjoy the financial, personal and social benefits derived from work.

How does it affect Employment? Many employers provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Companies have created accessible workstations that may include raised desks, filing cabinets at wheelchair levels and phones with big buttons. Businesses may also provide assistive technology such as screen readers, screen magnifiers, voice recognition software and raised keyboards. Some employers may even pay for personal care attendants to and from work. Many employers are now recognizing people with disabilities in their diversity programs, and creating affinity groups focused on the inclusion of people with disabilities including our nation’s Wounded Warriors. Even small businesses like SSB BART Group and TecAccess see the value in hiring and retaining people with disabilities. Why? Because we get access to a very talented group of Technologists, Writers, Project Managers, Programmers, Testers and Engineers. Plus, it allows our small businesses to differentiate ourselves from other firms.

Yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in five Americans with disabilities is unemployed.

How about Societal Changes? Here is a snapshot of an article written by Rose Musachio.

“I have written about how people stared at me while eating in restaurants, how parents used to pull their kids away as if I had the plague, and how some folks used to talk loudly and slowly “at” me. In short, I used to feel like an alien until recently.

But a gradual change is occurring within society. I really didn’t notice it until my best friend awakened me to the fact while touring Greater Cleveland during our vacation. People were actually nice and friendly towards me.

When we went to K-Mart and Giant Eagle, customers and employees said; “Hi, how are you?” as they passed us by in the aisles. One gentleman even offered to help us as my best friend was putting me into the car. The same thing happened when we went to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Art Museum. We received smiles and greetings from complete strangers. Even the security guard at the Hall of Fame waited with me while my friend pulled up with the car.

Besides being nice and courteous, I’ve also noted now that most people who I encounter don’t treat me as if I was retarded. They actually talk with me in a normal tone and at a regular pace. No longer do they talk “at” me. Moreover, unlike ten or fifteen years ago, most folks don’t seem to mind that I do things differently. For example, at a New Year’s Eve celebration that I attended, nobody gawked when my mom was feeding me. In fact, two women talked with me while I ate. To you, that probably doesn’t seem like a big deal. But, to me, if someone talks with me while I’m eating, it means that he or she accepts me as an ordinary individual…

Could it be that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has finally started to change society’s attitudes towards persons with disabilities? Possibly. The ADA has obviously caused us to be more visible on the streets, in the workplace, in the shopping malls. Since others notice us more as a part of society, they accept and treat us more as active members of the social realm. In fact, a 1998 survey conducted by the National Council of Disability and Harris Poll indicates that 63% of those questioned feel that attitudes towards people with disabilities have improved.

Indeed, my best friend was right. For some or all of the above reasons, people’s attitudes have become more positive, not just towards me, but towards all persons with disabilities. But even though society has become more comprehensive towards us, the social acceptance must grow into more education, employment and housing opportunities. Greetings, smiles and offers for assistance are all gratifying; however, a degree, a job and a home are imperative for us to remain productive members of society.”

What’s our Conclusion? To sum it all up, we are both optimists so YES we feel that the ADA has made positive changes across the world. Does society still have a lot of work to do? Yes, yes and yes!!! Society is starting to understand that people with disabilities can add value in many ways especially in the workforce.

A diverse and inclusive society is always a healthier community. Happy Birthday ADA! May we all continue to grow, blossom and add more opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in every aspect of society.