Twenty-Five Years of Progress for Americans with Disabilities

December 21, 2015

Twenty-five years ago, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities.  As the momentous 25th anniversary year of the ADA draws to a close, the Department is reflecting on what this seminal civil rights law means to people with disabilities, acknowledging the progress the department has helped to make possible and looking forward to the work ahead.

As Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch observed in her remarks commemorating the ADA’s 25th anniversary, “By prohibiting discrimination and ensuring opportunity, the ADA has opened doors and brought dreams within reach.”  Indeed, the true power and promise of the ADA lies in its ability to empower individuals with disabilities to dream bigger, and to enable them to pursue their own visions of the American dream.

The Department of Justice is proud to stand with individuals with disabilities to ensure that the ADA’s promise becomes a reality.  The department will continue to use the broad array of tools at its disposal – including technical assistance, regulation development, mediation, investigation, litigation and statements of interest – to aggressively pursue the goals of the ADA.

Over this anniversary year, the Department of Justice has worked diligently to advance the four goals set forth in the ADA – equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities – in a wide variety of contexts, including civic access, employment, education, integration, health care and recreation.

For example, through our technical assistance on the rights of parents with disabilities, the Justice Department made clear that people with disabilities are entitled to an equal opportunity to form families, become parents and raise their children without interference based on outdated stereotypes and incorrect assumptions about their abilities to parent.  And the department has continued to work to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to access quality education, including educational opportunities that are available online and educational opportunities in integrated settings alongside their non-disabled peers. 

The Department of Justice has fought for the rights of children like Brahm and Jayla to fully participate in all of the activities that make up a quintessential American childhood, such as going to the playground, playing sports and going to summer camp.  The department has also advanced the rights of individuals with disabilities to fully participate in the most fundamental civic activity – voting.

Through our 218 Project Civic Access agreements, including 15 new agreements this year alone, the Justice Department helps to ensure that people with disabilities are able to participate fully and independently in community life.  We also advance the goal of independent living through our Olmstead enforcement work, which helps people with disabilities have the opportunity to live and work in integrated settings in their communities and remains a high priority for the department.

Finally, we are furthering the goal of economic self-sufficiency by making clear that state and local government employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities.  In 2015, the Department of Justice entered into numerous settlement agreements and consent decrees obtaining relief for people with disabilities like Mr. Gomillia, who was fired from his job as a correctional officer after he disclosed that he used to have diabetes.  In addition to resolving individual complaints of employment discrimination, the department has entered into several agreements with public entities requiring them to revise their job applications and employment websites to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to compete for government jobs.

Though our country has certainly come a long way towards achieving equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities over the 25 years since the ADA was enacted, the department recognizes that our work is not yet done.  As the head of the Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, clearly stated in her remarks on the ADA’s anniversary, “We will not stop until every child with a disability can dream the same dreams as children without disabilities – and follow those dreams to reality.  Until every person with a disability can pursue a life of work, family, community and civic participation.  And until the dignity and value of every person is recognized without question.”  The department will not rest until, to paraphrase President George H.W. Bush’s powerful words at the ADA signing ceremony, every last shameful wall of exclusion for persons with disabilities finally comes tumbling down.

For more information about the ADA, call the department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800-514-0301 (TDD 800-514-0383) or access the ADA website at www.ada.gov.  You can file an ADA complaint online at www.ada.gov/complaint/.

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Updated September 9, 2016