Celebrating ADA 25 years in the making

by BERNADETTE FRANKS-ONGOY Disability Rights Montana

ADA 25 years later, Apostrophe is proud to bring an outlook on the last 25 years by Disability Rights Montana Director Bernadette Franks-Ongoy:

Americans with Disabilities Act 25 yearsOn July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 25th anniversary.

This landmark civil rights legislation granted people with disabilities the same rights enjoyed by other citizens in all areas of public life, including employment, state and local government facilities and services, public accommodations (such as stores, restaurants and movie theaters), telecommunications and transportation.

The ADA protects people with disabilities from discrimination and allows them to fully participate in the workforce and their communities. In a nutshell, it is a law that provides for inclusion and access for people with disabilities as never before in all aspects of community life.

The impact of the ADA can be seen all around us. Bathroom signs in the hallway announcing accessible facilities, curb cuts in sidewalks, doors with automatic openers, theaters with accessible seating and assisted listening devices are just a few examples of changes required by ADA.

All Americans have benefitted from the integration of people with disabilities throughout the past 25 years, which was made possible by the ADA. The law allows for full participation in employment and education in ways that did not seem possible before. Doors to education, employment and careers that seemed closed are now open for many.

Since its inception in 1990, people have asked the courts to enforce and interpret it. In one of the most influential cases brought under the ADA, Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999), the Supreme Court found that mental illness is a form of disability and therefore covered under the ADA.

Because of this, it found that unjustified institutional isolation of people with mental illness is discriminatory as it “…perpetuates unwarranted assumptions that persons so isolated are incapable or unworthy of participating in community life.”

Thus, the court concluded, people with disabilities must be integrated into their communities when possible. Throughout the country, community services providers have expanded their services to help people with mental illness and cognitive impairments to live full lives in our communities.

Although many things have changed for the better in the last 25 years, we still have a long way to go. Many barriers still exist for people with disabilities.

One area where this is very clear is employment. Year after year, we see low rates of employment for people with disabilities. We still accept segregated employment in sheltered workshops for many of the people with disabilities who do have jobs.

We fail to do real preparation for youth with disabilities in schools to get them ready for the workforce. In doing so, we are missing out on the important contributions that people with disabilities could make to our lives, our communities and our economy.

Twenty-five years after the passage of the ADA, we need to redouble our efforts and ensure that integration is a reality for all Americans with disabilities.

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