Twenty-nine years ago this month, I sat on the White House lawn watching history in the making. George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that launched a new era in the civil rights of people with disabilities. The ADA turned out to be a landmark piece of civil rights legislation and has influenced similar legislation around the world, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. These civil and human rights laws have increased access for people with disabilities to education, employment, facilities, housing, transportation, communication, and other resources, enabling them to live independently in the community of their choosing.
I have very strong, very personal memories of that hot, humid day in 1990. I tracked the progress of the bill as it made its way through Congress. I watched Justin Dart and Lex Frieden work with unions, industry, and private businesses to build support for the legislation, while Tom Harkin championed the bill through Congress. So many of my friends and colleagues in the disability community worked out front and behind the scenes to make this dream a reality. Change happened once the ADA was enacted: first physical, then attitudinal. Curb cuts, ramps, and lifts opened access to public spaces. Braille, captions, and alternative text addressed barriers to information. Policies and programs opened access to employment and education. And as technology has become an integral part of everyday life, universal and inclusive design have made it possible for everyone to access the online world. Changes in attitude, though slower, gave us access to opportunity. What I really saw was our seat finally pulling up to the table!
As we look ahead to the 30th anniversary of the ADA, I know this law is still changing lives, and will continue to do so. We have work ahead of us: to increase opportunities and access to employment and education, to support parents with disabilities in their rights to raise their families, and to ensure people with disabilities can live fully in the community of their choosing from childhood through their senior years. The ADA will be there, and so will we.