On July 26, 1990, Americans with disabilities suddenly found a Congress willing to sign an act to prevent discrimination and inhuman treatment. But what's changed in the past 25 years and how far do citizens still have to make the Americans with Disabilities Act complete?
Today marks the 25 year anniversary of the American with Disabilities Act, which prevents discrimination towards citizens with a disability and helping to rebuild the American Dream for people. And this year, the anniversary is even shinier because the Special Olympics just started with First Lady Michelle Obama opening the ceremonies in Los Angeles. Plus, New York City celebrated the first annual Disability Pride Parade on July 12.
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Written in 1990, the now historic Act protects people from discrimination and bigotry in “employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services.” That means a transportation company must comply the same way an apartment building or voting center are required.
‘systemic, inhumane discrimination’
While not seeming like a big deal to many in the age of technology, the lack of access to national support helped Dr. Robert L. Burgdorf Jr. create one of the most important civil rights bills in the modern era. In an article on the Washington Post, he discusses how a small processing document in 1987 for the National Council on Disability ended up becoming the juggernaut it is today.
According to the law professor, even a judge in 1971 described the discrimination as the “most discriminated minority” in the nation. That’s important to note because the current system has seen an increase of disabilities applied to the Act, indicating a rise of cases. But perhaps the new numbers simply means less people ashamed or afraid to admit a non-neurotypical request.
During the same time, public education openly illustrated the deep divide in the social class system. “Approximately 1 million school-aged individuals with disabilities were totally excluded from public educational programs, and another 3 million pupils with disabilities attended public schools but were not provided services.” And state residential treatment centers were little more than psychiatric jails, showcasing “systemic, inhumane discrimination.”
Should a disabled person manage to survive the world outside those high walls and somehow gain an education, public spaces weren’t required to make provisions for those needing assistance. Imagine being in a wheelchair, only to see bus after bus drive away since no one forced accommodations for those with functioning feet. Things like ramps in restaurants are a modern luxury compared to the many inaccessible curbs. And even if someone were able to successfully get around but wanted to change the system, he or she may not have been allowed due to voting restrictions.
Or being unable to use the phone because there’s no voice recognition software to help you understand and call 911, much less closed captioning on television. Assistive technology is part of everyday life, but once upon a time the gender public didn’t care beyond slinging derogatory remarks. Every day products like Dragon breakdown doors for people with disabilities.
But what about medical emergencies? Burgdorf cites cases where infants were denied medical coverage based on a lack of ‘normal’ appearance. Imagine a working diabetic—who already has to take a complicated insulin regime before the universal u-100 dosage—unable to stop and eat something to balance out low sugar because the boss said no. Not to mention the inclusion of AIDS and HIV as a disability, allowing coverage in many public spheres, since the amendment in the late 2000s.
These are problems many people no longer face since the ADA forced a national standard of quality of life.
President George H.W. Bush signed the bipartisan bill into law on July 26, 1990. In nation full of strides and setbacks, one thing remains clear: those with disabilities have protective civil and national rights. If someone is breaking the law, hindering progress, a lawsuit can move mountains and possibly set a precedence for future cases. That’s unbelievably important in a world where nothing is particularly guaranteed.
In 2014, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed against AutoZone for not taking absences due to disability into account between 2009 and 2011. This was a fourth ding against the company since 2009. First the EEOC cited the company for not promoting a visually impaired employee in Arizona. In 2011, an Illinois jury deemed the company’s insistence that a manager clean, which caused further injury, to be a problem. And a Wisconsin woman’s trial proceeded after it was proven the company fired her instead of accommodating her disability.
Chronic, systematic prejudice comes from the top when it crosses multiple states.
When filing out many job applications, there’s a disability page or clause in the self-survey that allows a company to know of any possible accommodations but cannot be a mark of disfavor against hiring the candidate. Justia has 29,405 cases listed on their website between 2004 and 2015—some as recent as July 25. These cases help citizens find compensation and representation in a world that may want to restrict access to success.
For instance, take the 1999 case surrounding two women captive in a Georgia state institution instead of the getting community help after voluntarily checking into the Georgia Regional Hospital at Atlanta (GRH).
L.C.’s schizophrenia and E.W.’s personality disorder situated them into a place they didn’t voluntarily want to be. Under Title II, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg found claims of inadequate funding to be ineffective since “States are required to place persons with mental disabilities in community settings rather than in institutions when the State's treatment professionals have determined that community placement is appropriate.”
In other words: don’t trample on disabled people’s rights. The case also helped to cement that mental illness is considered disability instead of a shameful secret and an enforceable “unjustified segregation.” With well over 30,000 cases in a little over a decade, it’s easy to see how the act prevents discrimination since the judgement points out that funding through Medicaid has been available since 1981. Implementing resources forestalls any acts of inequality and bigotry.
The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 paved a way for disabled citizens to be counted. The struggle is still happening 2 and people are still demanding representation and national integration into society. But the past two and half decades have definitely left a few doors wide open for future generations to find a form of required acceptance as the Act is updated with needs of the time, like in 2008.
And more importantly, disability is not a death sentence nor a societal disease. Forcing conversations about intersectional inclusion isn’t a bad thing. So for those with spoons today, hold them up high and be proud of the progress made…and all the progress still yet to come.