The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, was signed into law July 26, 1990, to make sure the rights of people with disabilities remain intact and protected.
Since its passage, July has become a month that holds special significance for people with disabilities. It is a time for us to think about where we were and how far we have yet to go.
Much like the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the ADA is a civil rights law. And like the Civil Rights Act, the ADA is one of the highest laws in the land. It says people with disabilities have the same rights as everyone else. It protects their right to vote, to go to the movies, to head down to the corner store, to do all the things people without disabilities do without thinking twice. Much of this protection is codified as barrier removal.
Barriers, whether intended or not, whether they be a flight of stairs, a voice recording or small print, only serve to ostracize people who are really just asking to be included. Barriers, whether intended or not, are a means of discrimination against people with disabilities.
Remember how terrible it was to get picked last on the playground? Imagine never having the chance to get onto the playground in the first place.
The ADA tries to rectify this in some small way. The law isn’t perfect. In fact, in many ways, it is the barest possible minimum someone could do. And yet, despite nearly 30 years, we still can’t seem to get this simple set of building codes right. After three decades, people still argue about its applicability.
To be fair, the ADA can be confusing; I don’t deny that. But there are plenty of resources out there. There are 10 regional ADA centers (Wisconsin is in the Great Lakes region.) Centers for Independent Living have staff that are trained and understand the ADA. You can read the ADA at any time — it is readily available in .pdf format online — you can have it printed and sent to you — and there are plenty of disabilities rights organizations to answer any questions you might have.
So, complicated? Yes. But not insurmountable.
The ADA is about more than the law. Sure, regulations are important, and they’re a good benchmark. But all those codes and rules distract us from the point. They’re trying to quantify something that cannot be understood by knowing a toilet seat needs to be 16-19 inches tall. The ADA is really about attitude.
The ADA is about understanding people with disabilities are people first, and our disabilities don’t define us. The ADA is about everyone having the right to be a person, to do and to be all the things a person does and is. The ADA is about doing everything in our power to make sure everyone gets picked for the team, and knowing that left-field, unenviable as it may be, is at least on the playground.
Tyler Wilcox is the Independent Living coordinator for Society’s Assets.