The Americans with Disabilities Act turns twenty-eight today. It was signed into law on July 26, 1990. I was born nearly two months later, September 20, 1990. I have never lived in a world without the ADA. This isn’t something that I’ve always been aware of, or even given a whole lot of thought to, especially as a little kid.
I knew that there were things especially for people with disabilities, parking spaces and bathroom stalls, but I didn’t always understand the complete importance of the legislation. I didn’t know that the ADA and other laws meant that I was allowed to go to school with my friends. It never occurred to me that ramps and elevators in public places were there because laws made them a requirement. Never would it have crossed my mind that there was a time that I wouldn’t have been able to go to school and doctors’ offices, or out to eat and to the movies. I didn’t know then that the freedoms of people with disabilities have progressed from a time when they weren’t able to exist in public at all.
I know these things now. I also know that the rights of people with disabilities have not progressed as far as they seem to, and should have been able to. All of those issues still exist. It’s still a fight to get an education. There are still real, physical barriers to public access. It continues to be nearly completely impossible for a disabled person to work, get married and retain their health care coverage, let alone do those things and have a family.
Nearly thirty years after the ADA, and true equality seems farther away than ever sometimes. On top of very real societal barriers that remain in place, discriminatory attitudes toward and outright ignorance of disability are a daily threat to the lives of disabled people. Disabled people spend an unreasonable amount of time explaining their disabilities to strangers that we encounter in daily interactions. These strangers feel they are entitled to not only being educated about disability but passing judgment about what they think disabled people are capable and deserving of. Interactions like this, both online and in person, happen with infuriating frequency and are yet another barrier to disabled people being accepted as equal members of society.
In the face of these seemingly endless barriers and discrimination, it would be easy to just stop fighting, fold to society’s apparent desire that we disappear. But that won’t happen. There are too many in the disability community dedicated to making sure that we are given our rights and allowed to be equal, active participants in society. The Americans with Disabilities Act was a progression in the fight for equality. It’s a fight that will continue.