When we talk about equal rights for all Americans, we may think of guaranteeing protections for people of color, for women, and for the LGBTQ community. But one group that is considered less often is Americans living with disabilities. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 61 million American adults–about one out of every four adults in the United States–lives with some type of disability. Several million live with more than one type of disability. Thirty years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), sought to ensure equality, protections, and a better quality of life for people with disabilities. Has it been successful? Here, Election Central takes a closer look.
The Americans With Disabilities Act became the first major piece of civil rights legislation in the world to prohibit discrimination based on disability. Signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, this bipartisan law guarantees equal opportunity for people with disabilities. It consists of five titles that prohibit discrimination in public places (such as schools and sidewalks) and publicly-accessible private places. The law also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. The ADA covers both mental and physical disabilities, whether they are temporary or permanent.
While the ADA is a critical piece of legislation that helps millions of Americans with disabilities live fuller and more equitable lives, it must continue to provide solutions to today’s unique challenges for the disabled community.
Despite three decades of the ADA, the unemployment rate is twice as high for people with disabilities as compared to those who do not live with a disability. Similarly, people with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty as those who don’t have disabilities.
How to address this issue? Many disability rights activists have called for the federal government to give tax credits to businesses that hire people living with disabilities. It is also important for employers to remember to see people with disabilities in terms of their strengths, rather than their difficulties. For example, many people with disabilities have had to overcome unique challenges, which can make them more adaptable and better at solving problems.
Today’s world presents complications that weren’t anticipated thirty years ago. For example, the ADA originally focused on making physical spaces more accessible for everyone. That’s very important, but today internet connectivity allows more Americans to work from home. Unfortunately, many Web sites and technologies are still not disability-friendly. This is also true for students with disabilities, who may now have to participate in distance learning online. Disability rights activists identify equal access to technology as a critical issue in the fight for equal rights.