July 26, 2015 marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Celebrations of the signing of the ADA by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990 are taking place across the nation.
The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) give civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. The ADA and ADAAA also assure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.
The ADA was the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities. It was a collaborative effort of Democrats, Republicans, the legislative and the executive branches, federal and state agencies, and people with and without disabilities.
The ADA Anniversary is a time that we can reflect positively on a law that has made a great impact on the lives of people with disabilities and our country over the past 25 years. The message within the Preamble and history is powerful because it clearly states the Congressional intent that the law is intended “to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”
When President Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law — the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities — in front of 3,000 people on the White House lawn on July 26, 1990, the event represented an historical benchmark and a milestone in America’s commitment to full and equal opportunity for all of its citizens.
The President’s emphatic directive on that day — “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down” — neatly encapsulated the simple yet long overdue message of the ADA: that millions of Americans with disabilities are full-fledged citizens and as such are entitled to legal protections that ensure them equal opportunity and access to the mainstream of American life.
Enactment of the ADA reflects deeply held American ideals that treasure the contributions that individuals can make when free from arbitrary, unjust, or outmoded societal attitudes and practices that prevent the realization of their potential. The ADA reflects a recognition that the surest path to America’s continued vitality, strength and vibrancy is through the full realization of the contributions of all of its citizens.
First introduced in the 100th Congress, the ADA bans discrimination on the basis of disability in the areas of employment, public accommodation, public services, transportation and telecommunications. President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. Final regulations for Title I, the employment provisions of ADA, were issued on July 26, 1991 by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Also on that day, the Department of Justice issued final regulations, for Titles II (public services) and III (public accommodations).
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) was enacted on September 25, 2008, and became effective on January 1, 2009. By enacting the ADAAA, Congress overturned several Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed had interpreted the definition of “disability” too narrowly, resulting in a denial of protection for many individuals with impairments such as cancer, diabetes, and epilepsy. It also directed the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to amend its ADA regulations to reflect the changes made by the ADAAA.
The ADAAA made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In enacting the ADAAA, Congress made it easier for an individual seeking protection under the ADA to establish that he or she has a disability within the meaning of the statute. The ADAAA states that the definition of disability should be interpreted in favor of broad coverage of individuals. In addition, an important statement in Purposes section of the ADAAA clarifies that Congress intends that the focus of the ADA, like other civil rights statutes, should be on whether discrimination occurred, not on an exhausting analysis of whether the person has a disability.
At BAMSI, we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the ADA and the ADAAA in the work we do everyday across our 120 program locations. We honor this amazing moment in time that has served to promote the rights and liberties of ALL Americans. We look to the next 25 years of the ADA to continue to promote a community-based, person-centered approach that empowers all individuals!