20 Years Later…

July 26, 1990 wasn’t just the summer before my freshman year in college, but it was a date that has become increasingly important to me over the past few years.  President George H.W. Bush signed into law a bill that would change lives and open doors for years to come.  The Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly referred to as the ADA,  hasbroken down barriers, created opportunities and transformed lives” as stated by the resolution of original sponsor Tom Harkin of Iowa, in a salute to the ADA.  Below is a little snippet I wrote three years ago about the importance of the ADA, and I can only imagine life without this important piece of legislation.

Originally Posted by Angie Knight on Jul 25, 07 12:24 PM

Happy birthday, ADA!


No, I’m not talking about Aunt Ada, but tomorrow, July 26, is the seventeenth anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  This would have been right before I began my first year of college, and as parts of the act came into play during my college years, I daresay I didn’t think a lot about what it meant to be disabled (that wouldn’t come for several more years).

President George H. W. Bush signed the bill into law on that date. In front of 3000 people on the White House lawn, the President enacted this first-in-the-world comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down,” he declared upon signing the bill, ushering in the acceptance of those with disabilities.

Showing that the disabled are indeed full-fledged citizens who are entitled to legal protections, the idea was to open access to all for mainstream American life. I know there are many opinions of the ADA as it plays out today, and it does indeed have strengths and weaknesses (that I won’t go in to today). But as I read of the history of experiences of those with disabilities, I continue to gain an appreciation for our Congress and President of 1990. From what I read, I saw that in Colonial times, people would frequently keep disabled persons at the home fulltime, sometimes drowning individuals because there was simply no way they could be a part of life as it was. In coming years, individuals with physical or mental disabilities would be institutionalized, sometimes for life. Although these “institutions” did show improvements through the 19th century, the focus was more one of survival than one of learning function, coping skills, and independence. It really wasn’t until veterans returned from World War I in 1920 that real attention was given to rehabilitation and the disabled becoming a part of society.

In the late 60’s, the Civil Rights Movement started bending toward inclusion for people with disabilities, showing that there is not a need for “charity” as much as a need for empowerment. So with other steps taken up until then, that July 26, 1990 date is one that mattered more than I would realize. Being able to enter a building, to have access to needed resources, to know that people who are employed are not legally able to be dismissed solely because of a disability… these are all things that are possible since that signing on the White House lawn. It’s not perfect, it’s not all-inclusive, but this is definitely worth celebrating! 

ADA information, text of the law and its history may be found in documentation from the JAN, the Job Accommodation Network, funded by the Office of Disability Employment and the U.S. Department of Labor.