Twenty Six Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act: The Lives, Faces and Stories Behind the ADA

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July 26, 2016

Twenty six years ago today, when President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, he called it “powerful in its simplicity” and explained, “It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”

For more than two decades, the Department of Justice has worked tirelessly to enforce the ADA, ensuring that people with disabilities can live their lives with the autonomy, opportunity and dignity they deserve.  Around the country, through litigation, technical assistance, guidance and regulatory work, we protect the rights of people with disabilities to vote, live, work and learn in their own communities, free from discrimination.

Today, Zavier no longer earns $1.70 per hour assembling small company parts.  Instead, with employment support, he works at a local YMCA, helping kids complete their homework and resolve their conflicts.  The agreement the department and private plaintiffs reached with Oregon last year will impact 7,000 Oregonians with disabilities – Oregonians, like Zavier, who can and want to work in typical community employment settings.

Xavier, who now works a local YMCAJayla and her family, who will soon be able to access and enjoy the local playgroundJoe, who can make online mortgage payments on Wells Fargo’s website and not have to pay a $25 service fee over the phone

Today, because of reforms mandated by a 2015 Justice Department agreement in Robeson County, North Carolina, Jayla and other children in wheelchairs will soon get the chance to access their local playgrounds, to enjoy their childhood and to play with their siblings and friends, just as all kids deserve.

Today, because of a settlement agreement the department reached with Augusta County, Virginia, last year, voters with mobility or vision impairments can access their polling places, so they can participate in our democracy without facing unlawful, unnecessary barriers to the ballot box.  To build on this work, last year we launched a new ADA Voting Initiative – in partnership with our U.S. Attorney colleagues – to ensure that people with disabilities get an equal opportunity to participate in the voting process, including in the 2016 presidential elections.  And just last month, we also published technical assistance on polling place accessibility for voters with disabilities.

And today, in part because of our efforts, Joe, who is blind, can make online mortgage payments on Wells Fargo’s website and not have to pay a $25 service fee over the phone.  Under the settlement agreement the department reached with Wells Fargo in 2011, people with disabilities – including those who are blind and deaf – won’t face unlawful discrimination when trying to pay their bills.
 
These stories represent just a sample of our success.  Despite our impactful efforts over the past 26 years, we recognize that there are many unaddressed challenges and unresolved barriers in our communities.  These barriers don’t just hurt people with disabilities; they impact all of us.  Helping people with disabilities live meaningful, enjoyable and productive lives enables our country to reach its full potential.  So we must forge on until growing up with a disability in America no longer leads to discrimination; until we, as a nation, recognize the dignity and value of every person without question and until – to quote President Bush’s powerful words at the ADA signing ceremony – “the shameful wall of exclusion finally come[s] tumbling down.”  
Topic(s): 
Civil Rights

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Updated March 3, 2017