25 Years of the ADA – Where Have We Been and Where Do We Need To Go?


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, making this the 25th anniversary of this important civil rights legislation. Our community gathered this evening to celebrate this important anniversary, and I was proud to be there as a self-advocate and speaker to mark this important occasion.

The ADA has done great things to further access to the disability community, but it has benefited nondisabled people, too. Mothers with small children in strollers benefits from ramps and curve cuts. When people carry heavy or awkward items and need to open a door, they use automatic doors. These were not required before the ADA, so we all have something to celebrate today.

While we all benefit from these direct accommodations for people with disability, for some us, we rely on them. Most people find technology to be useful and a benefit, but I really need it to help me get around and organize my day without showing my limitations. I struggle to remember instructions and directions but having the internet allows me to see a visual map of where I need to be. I would not be in the position I am if I did not have my tablet. I would have a hard time remembering appointments, but because I can immediately put plans into my calendar, I don’t forget them.

Some people may be surprised to find out that I have writing difficulties. It is part of my disability. While I was in grade school I struggled to read and write. My hand writing would make a doctor’s handwriting look good! And I could not spell to save my life. If I did not have technology, ADA, or IDEA, would not be able to function the way I can today. Thankfully I am able to write and share my passions in this blog because of technology created with the help of the ADA. But not all disabled people have access to technology that can really help them. That is a problem.

The ADA is a great law that showed what Americans with disabilities wanted! Unfortunately, it has had trouble being put into practice. Even today I feel the ADA has not been able to be fully put into practice. There are still people with disabilities who are isolated from their communities. There are still people with disabilities who don’t have access to education and higher education. There are still people with disabilities who get denied proper employment because of limitations. These areas plague our country’s ability to implement all of the ADA standards.

While I was in Washington DC recently, I met a fellow advocate who could not keep a job in Washington DC because there is no accessible transit to help them get to their new job. For the ADA to be most affective it need to be part into practice everywhere and for all people with disabilities. The fact is there are still barriers for people with disabilities in the workplace, in community, and even finding a home.

Unfortunately, there are people with disabilities that are left out of ADA. People with mental illness still live on the streets or prison. Children with disabilities are not getting an equal education, especially for those with intellectual disabilities. Even though the ADA passed before I went to school, my family had to fight for me to receive the education I had.

While the ADA has done a lot for those with physical disabilities and sensory disabilities, there are still gaps in helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities get access to their community. This is not only troublesome, it can lead to serious harm to people with I/DD. If I was in situation where my communication was limited due to a meltdown, and I lost control of my body, I can get hurt by police who would not be able to look at me and see my disability. They could mistake my movement as aggressive or hostile. Sadly the ADA has not been able to protect people with disabilities in these situations as we have seen in the case of Ethan Saylor and many others. Our movement needs to work on making the ADA stronger so people like Ethan can be safe in their own community.

The ADA needs to be followed more closely, and it needs to be applied more broadly to cover everyone with a disability. Accommodations for people with I/DD need to be considered, even if they are a bit more unconventional. My disability does not require use of ramps, but I do need understanding and acceptance of my invisible limitations. I want to feel safe to express myself in my community and to have options to avoid environments that cause sensory issues for me.

Additionally, I know that people with disabilities have many different backgrounds which can complicate their lives more. For example, people of color, LGBTQ, and women may find it more difficult to navigate in our society as their disability intersects with these other areas of discrimination. We need to work harder to make sure each of these communities can have all of their needs met.

Don’t get me wrong. I see that the ADA has done a lot, and I’m grateful for all that has been accomplished in these past 25 years. But I feel it can be stronger, and it can also be more practical for people with I/DD. The next steps are to expand reach so that:

  • All people with disabilities get equal work opportunities;
  • All people with disabilities have fair access to housing;
  • All people with disabilities get to vote and have their rights as Americans protected;
  • All people with disabilities have their voices heard;
  • All people with disabilities are protected from police brutality;
  • All people with disabilities have access to affordable and reliable transportation;
  • All people with disabilities get access to affordable, quality healthcare.
  • All people with disabilities get access to all aspects of community;

For the next 25 years, I think our goal should be to make the ADA more powerful in preserving the rights of all people, no matter what their disability and what marginalized community they might be in. Our voices need to be heard and respected, and the ADA needs to protect all of us. I believe it can! It was meant to!

Ivanova25thADAWe want to thank our frequent community blogger Ivanova Smith for today’s post. Ivanova is an intern for The Arc of King County and she is a civil rights activist and self advocate for people with I/DD. Ivanova is an active speaker who presents about disabilities issues around the state. Her most recent speaking engagement was at the 25th Anniversary celebration at Westlake Center on July 22. 


2 thoughts on “25 Years of the ADA – Where Have We Been and Where Do We Need To Go?

  1. The ADA a complete joke. One relative never got a job offer after meeting with HR who always had weasel questions like ‘That chair something you are comfortable with?’ or ‘Did you know that the job requires standing’ – all because of a stiff knee. Result: raising his own businesses from high school on – lifetime self-employment which without advanced degrees and connections means the only safety net is cash advances on credit cards. No health insurance ever without a massive premium, until the ACA. Welcome to the states where every law is another lie.

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