By Michael Rock
July 26, 2019 marked the twenty-ninth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). The act attempts to eliminate discrimination against people with disabilities by establishing a set of national standards to better address their needs in areas ranging from housing to employment to recreation to education.
Despite the ADA’s many provisions and successes, there is still a long way to go before the United States fully assimilates those with disabilities.
Much of the current limitations that people with disabilities face despite the act are rooted in unsuccessful efforts by advocates to include them in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Between then and the signing of the ADA, most legal progress for people with disabilities was squeezed into other pieces of legislation.
When the ADA was introduced, efforts to weaken it emerged immediately, causing the final legislation to be laden with loopholes and narrower than ideal definitions of disability. Even today, efforts to improve the legislation are undermined by compromises for political purposes.
More recently, the US Justice Department under the current administration has made combating discrimination against people with disabilities a low priority and has changed its policies in ways that weaken its ability to enforce the ADA.
This should be especially concerning as the Supreme Court may soon rule on whether retailers are obligated to make their websites and apps ADA compliant in response to a lawsuit filed by Guillermo Robles, a blind man who sued Domino’s Pizza because neither their website nor their app allowed him to get adequate service.
Despite these challenges, there is still a great deal of progress. The U.S. Department of Labor recently introduced an online toolkit to help workers with disabilities understand their rights under the terms of the ADA.
Meanwhile, The Ability Center of Springfield/Eugene has introduced the first 3D accessible parking aisle in the area. The paint design creates the false appearance of raised barriers so that drivers who are able to park elsewhere are deterred from using the accessible space.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot honored the anniversary of the ADA’s signing by calling for the introduction of audible traffic signals for pedestrians throughout the nation’s third-largest city.
Though the Americans with Disabilities Act was a key step in the right direction, there are nonetheless continuous efforts to both strengthen and weaken it. Ultimately, advocates should embrace those figures dedicated to making the United States as inclusive to people with disabilities as possible while opposing those who wish to weaken the ADA.
Michael Rock is a New York City-based reporter and self-advocate with autism. A graduate of Brandeis University, his work has appeared in Kings County Politics, Chelsea Now, Our Town, Queens County Politics, and WhoWhatWhy.