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On 25th Anniversary of ADA, We Need to do More

(Photo: Keoni Cabral/flickr/cc)

July 26, 1990, was a life-changing day for people like me. Twenty-five years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law.

If you’re able-bodied, you may not realize how life-changing the ADA has been for people with disabilities. Thanks to the ADA, an extension of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that Congress passed with bipartisan support, the nearly one in five Americans with disabilities have legal redress against the discrimination they face daily in so many aspects of their lives.

One day in 1989, I went to grab a burger at a deli. “You can’t stay here,” the man behind the counter said. “Blind people will depress other people.” A quarter century later, because of the ADA, such discrimination would be illegal.

A patron prohibited from entering a restaurant or cinema; a student denied an education because a school isn’t wheelchair accessible; or a qualified job applicant denied an interview because of his or her disability can seek legal redress for this discrimination.

Thanks to the ADA, wheelchair ramps, Braille on elevators and sign language interpreters have become a familiar part of everyday life. The other day, a server at a diner not only welcomed me, but offered me a Braille menu. Deaf people can access captioning of their favorite shows on TV. Employers are hiring qualified people with disabilities.

Recently, an Apple technical support representative told me that he was “hard of hearing” and that a hearing aid enabled him to effectively do his work. Yet, despite this progress, much remains to be achieved. Less than 20 percent of people with disabilities were employed last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many doctor’s offices and hospitals still aren’t wheelchair accessible.

A few years ago, I was hospitalized with a badly injured knee. In the hospital’s orthopedic surgery ward, I was unable to get into the bathroom with a walker. Medical facilities, as well as courts and prisons, too frequently don’t have sign language interpreters for deaf people.

Inaccessible websites continue to put up barriers for blind and visually impaired people. I’m often at my wit’s end when I try to book an airline reservation or find a company’s contact information online because a site isn’t accessible to me. Deaf people often can’t get good video captioning online. Amtrak, our national passenger train service, is particularly behind the times. Just 18 of Amtrak’s nearly 400 stations are accessible to people using wheelchairs, crutches, braces or walkers (or even a woman with a baby stroller).

“Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” President George H.W. Bush said as he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act 25 years ago.

As we celebrate the ADA, let’s keep working to tear those walls down.

We know things are bad. We know it's worth the fight.

You are part of a strong and vibrant community of thinkers and doers who believe another world is possible. Alone we are weak. Together we can make a difference. At Common Dreams, we don't look away from the world—we are not afraid—our mission is to document those doing wrong and galvanize those doing good. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. We have now launched our annual Summer Campaign. Can you pitch in today?

Kathi Wolfe

Kathi Wolfe is a writer and poet. Her most recent collection, “The Uppity Blind Girl Poems,” was published earlier this year by BrickHouse Books.

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