30 Days of Thanks – Day 21 –  Happy 25th Birthday, ADA!

  1. disabilitiesSummer 1990 was a time of transition for me, as I was preparing to move away to college. My senior year had been an eventful one in the big scheme of things… the Berlin Wall had been torn down in November, student protests at Tiananmen Square in Beijing had shaken the world just a few months earlier, and Nelson Mandela had been freed after 27 years in South African prison.  After graduating, I had no idea that our President would sign a bill that would have more of a personal impact on me than any of these other storied events that filled the news ever would. On July 26, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As he stated at the signing, this act was meant to tear down another wall, removing some of the barriers experienced by those facing disabilities.

Has the ADA succeeded in tearing down that wall, as the President stated? Though I know implementation has been imperfect (what isn’t?), The ADA has succeeded in making life fuller, places more accessible than many would have imagined 25 years ago. So this leads to today’s thankful list:

5 Things That Make Me Thankful for the ADA:

  1. Parking places – Because of the requirements legislated by the ADA, those of us who have difficulty walking (or using a cane, walker, or wheelchair) may park in closer spots. Before I started using a cane, I would often use my tag and park at these spots – I may not have looked “disabled,” but MS left my legs less cooperative than I sometimes wished, and my internal battery just didn’t hold any extra charge.
  1. Required Accessibility in Public Places – Except for older locations, all public places are required to allow those who are disabled to use them. So doors need to be wide enough, an entrance without stairs must be present… the power of this law became obvious to me when I called the restaurant where we were planning my parents’ anniversary. Not having visited this out-of-town establishment before, I asked whether the room was handicap accessible for one in a wheelchair or using a walker. The answer was immediate, “Of course it is. It’s the law.”
  1. School stuff – For me, I was able to quietly make arrangements to have the location of a college course changed, as I researched in advance to discover that the planned classroom was one that had a few steps at its entrance. Though I was only using a cane, I knew that the unpredictability of MS could require the use of a walker later in the semester. So the room switched. And the other students never knew about this. (At first, the instructor had questioned whether this needed to be switched, but when I copied a college administrator on the email conversation, the prof was told that I shouldn’t have had to ask more than once, and law required that this reasonable accommodation be made.)
  1. “Magic Doors” – This is what they seem like anyhow. Though automatically opening doors are not an ADA requirement for many locations, they do help for the accessibility standards to be met. Pressing a button to open a door allowed me to enter school, work, and church.
  1. Elevators! 🙂 – I was thrilled to hear a report last Friday about ways the ADA has made a difference in the lives of those who may not face disability. I can only imagine navigating New York City in a wheelchair, but I was very encouraged to hear of subway stations that are in the process of adding (or are planning to add) elevators. Here at home, I appreciate the existence of elevators, more than I used to, and I know the ADA has helped fund improvements here nationwide.

Curb cuts, accommodations, accessible theater seats… there is so much this law has helped make available. This isn’t only for the disabled community as it is now, but for those who don’t view themselves as “disabled” but find their lives enriched by structures, events and cultural trends impacted by the spirit of the ADA. Thank you, George H. W. Bush!