25 Ways the Americans with Disabilities Act Sparked Positive Change in the United States

With the 25th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) fast approaching, plans for celebrations are launching into high gear. I love any reason to join a party, so I’m obviously pretty excited.

But let’s get serious – ADA 25 is an awe-inspiring, momentous occasion that deserves the highest honor. On July 26, 1990, the world-changing disability rights movement leaders who fought so hard for the U.S. government to ensure the rights of the disability community finally achieved victory when President Bush, Sr. signed the ADA into law. They are some of my biggest heroes, these activists who put themselves on the front-lines to spark change for generations to come.

And now, the time is here to honor the legacy of the ADA and its rich history.

I’m a big fan of lists, so what better way to show a little love to the ADA than to share a list of all of the important ways the ADA has brought change to the United States?

25 Ways the Americans with Disabilities Act Sparked Positive Change in the United States

  1. Curb cuts
  2. More equal opportunities for people with all types of disabilities to receive a public education
  3. Increased accessible public transportation
  4. Service animals are more accepted in public
  5. Reasonable accommodations
  6. Greater social involvement among the disability community in all areas of society
  7. More civic engagement, i.e. voting
  8. Expanded employment opportunities for disabled people
  9. Gives a stronger voice to the world’s largest minority
  10. Provides a platform of civil rights for the disability community
  11. Disabled athletes can thrive in adaptive sports
  12. Support systems exist for people with all types of disabilities
  13. Misconceptions and prejudices can be more easily debunked
  14. There is a bigger presence of disability in the media
  15. Adaptive products are more widely available
  16. There is a bigger focus on studying disability in academia
  17. Paved the way for further legislative policy advancement for disability rights
  18. Serves as a common bond for all people with disabilities in the United States
  19. Provides a legal basis to maintain momentum in pursuing accessibility and justice
  20. Automatic door openers have become much more common in public places
  21. Helps prevent discriminatory actions or retaliation
  22. Social recognition of disabled people as full, contributing citizens
  23. Acts as a symbol of disability pride and culture
  24. Serves as a reminder of the positive potential of bipartisanship
  25. Created a legacy for current and future generations of young activists as we carry the torch forward

Within this list, decades of progress are reflected. Yet, I know the work of disability rights advocates is far from finished. I know that on days when we, as disabled people, face discrimination or access barriers, we may find ourselves forgetting the battles that have already been fought. We must remember, though, the immense passion and dedication of the activists whose ADA victory was hard-won. We must never take for granted the progress society has made in the past 25 years, and in the next 25 years, the disability community and non-disabled allies alike must continue to work to honor the legacy of generations before us by continuing to roll forward the wheels of progress and change.



  1. One of the biggest gains was the handicap parking spot – a boon for many people who would otherwise not go out and go shopping, etc.

    I thank those who fought for those spaces, at the same time I always speak up when things happen to those critical spots, such as the time I complained at the doctor’s office that the snowplows had used those spots as dump sites for huge piles of snow – which would then take forever to clear, and the time I explained to the college students that the spot was not there for their convenience when moving into a dorm, but was supposed to be available for people like me to PARK in.

  2. Thanks for the reminder about the ADA, Emily. I’m thinking we need T-shirts and bumper stickers to get this celebration started.

    The ADA helped my son the very first time he advocated for himself in the work place. Part of his being on the autism spectrum is not being able to follow several conversation threads in meetings. He found the ADA web site and discovered that he could bring someone with him to an up-coming meeting: someone who could “facilitate communication” for him. Part of this was having to carefully explain to both his supervisor and the head of the HR department that no, he was not bringing a lawyer with him; he was bringing a communication’s professional to help keep him focused and an equal player during the meeting.

  3. Though as a person with hearing loss, my benefits from the ADA, are less notable than yours Emily but still present. Because of the ADA, I attend a mainstreamed public school where I take advanced courses and am involved in Student Council. I receive the accommodations and assistive technology imperative to my success. And I will on to college and to be an elementary teacher who can not be discriminated against due to disability. 3 decades ago, all this would not have been plausible.

  4. ADA made it possible for me to attend a college closer to home. Before that, their campus was insanely inaccessible, but the changes they made to suit ADA requirements made it possible for me to attend there, which saved us money on housing, meals, and commuting. Also, most of the resteraunts and entertainment venues in my home town now have ramps and accessible restroom facilities, which gives this introvert one less excuse to skip social activities…

  5. For me as a deaf person, one HUGE area of impact from the ADA is on my ability to use the telephone and call whomever I need to call. Before the ADA, TTY relay services (since video phones were not around in the 1980s, we used text phones/TTYs) were not universally available in all states, and where they existed at all service was usually very limited in some way. In Massachusetts where I grew up, TTY relay had limited hours–some evening hours but nothing late at night. In California where I went to college for a year (fall ’88 to spring ’89), TTY relay service would only handle your call if BOTH the deaf person AND the hearing person were in California, so if I wanted to talk with my hearing sister in Massachusetts? Nope, could not do. And I couldn’t even email her to explain why since this was the days before email was in wide usage. In DC, where I transferred to a new college (fall ’89 onwards) there were only a ridiculously tiny number of relay service agents, most (all?) volunteer) struggling to serve a large deaf community. This meant it could take a good 20 minutes of CONTINUOUS dialing and redialing and redialing and etc. to finally break through the one tiny window of opportunity to actually reach a ringing phone that might emerge during that time. Hearing people never had a successful experience calling me via relay service because they kept refusing to believe that you really did have to CONTINUOUSLY dial and redial in order to have ANY chance of reaching a live person, so I always had to be the one to initiate all phone calls.

    Now, post ADA, TTY relay services (for those still using text phones, such as people who do not sign) are free, available 24-7 in all states and phone calls to pretty much any phone number in the world is allowed to use TTY relay. And ever since video phone technology became available, video phones have been provided free to deaf ASL-users, and video relay service is also available 24-7 in all states and can be used to call pretty much any phone number in the world.

    I’m still waiting for more comprehensive Skype access because that is becoming more important particularly when communicating with people in other countries. The ADA doesn’t cover Skype since it was written before Skype became a thing. But the phone access I enjoy today is largely due to the ADA.

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