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.

Generation ADA is Here to Stay in the Fight for Disability Rights

In honor of the 24th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), my friend and fellow activist, Maddy Ruvolo, and I released a podcast called Disabled Girls Talk. We focused on what it’s been like to grow up and function in society as part of the ADA generation, celebrating our civil rights.

To highlight the positive impact of the ADA, Maddy and I got people talking across social media about what this disability-specific legislation has brought into our lives. You can check out the #BecauseOfTheADA hashtag we started on Twitter to see an incredibly insightful exchange of ideas. It’s been amazing to see so many people acknowledging the progress we have made in ensuring the rights of the disability community in the United States.

And yet, there is so much more work to be done. So much more. On paper, the ADA promises access and calls for equality, but a massive group within Generation ADA, along with every other generation of disabled people on this planet, must fight and advocate our way through every single day against barriers, against prejudice, against outright discrimination. We are never unaware that change is hard won and progress must be made.

However, in our podcast, Maddy and I did indeed address the idea that we take some things the ADA has provided for granted. By this, I meant that when I go up a ramp into a public place, I should not HAVE to stop to express gratitude for having basic access. Neither Maddy nor I meant, in any sense, that we take the ADA as a whole, or the work of advocates before us, for granted.

So, when I read a response to our podcast and our friend’s blog post accusing Generation ADA of being careless, and of doing nothing more than paying a bit of “lip service” when we encounter discrimination or access barriers, I was honestly extremely taken aback.

First, how is it fair to take issue with the fact that my disabled peers and I enjoy the rights provided for us by the ADA? Isn’t that why advocates fought for such legislation in the first place? The generation who worked to turn the ADA into law deserves to feel pride in their immense accomplishment and asking Generation ADA to appreciate that is more than warranted. That being said, why is it a problem that some forms of access have become so integrated into our lives that we can sometimes use them without thinking about it? This means the ADA is working!

In some ways, that is. There are countless places in the United States that are still completely closed off to me because I use a wheelchair. There are countless people who believe I do not deserve the rights I already have, nor the rights that advocates of all generations have yet to secure. There are countless people who still perceive me as nothing more than an object of pity and view my life as one not worth living.

Did you catch that reference to “Lives Worth Living,” the documentary about the pioneers of the disability rights movement? That’s just one of myriad resources I’m lucky to have so I’ll never forget the activists who paved the way, the activists who made it so that even though I still face access issues and prejudice, I don’t face it nearly as much as they did only decades ago.

The fighters who have come before me are at the heart and soul of why I continue to fight for my rights, and I think it’s safe to say this goes for plenty of my peers. To assert that Generation ADA has given up this fight because we take something like a ramp for granted is a major misjudgment. There are unfortunately people in every generation who are apathetic about disability rights, because that’s just human nature for some, but they are outweighed by so, so many of us who work tirelessly as activists ranging from a local level to a national level, and from a national level to a global level. Rather than calling us out for what we’re supposedly not doing – potentially creating fissures within a community that so desperately needs to focus on a unified front to achieve progress – how about continuing to mentor, advise, and support us (as several older advocates already do) as we find our way forward in this country that’s still so weighed down by stigma?

You may hear me talk about how great it is to have automatic door openers, but how insulting to assume that because I can push a (usually faulty) button to open a door, it means I’ve resigned myself to the idea that there’s no reason to keep the flames of the advocacy movement going strong. These flames are my passion. They are the reason I write. They are the reason I use social media to spread the word about disability issues and rights. (And why yes, I do tweet about the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities – #CRPD. In fact, I did an internship last summer with the Association of University Centers on Disabilities under the auspices of the American Association of People with Disabilities [AAPD] during which I went to meetings on Capitol Hill, and I literally did the research and wrote the talking points for people to use when calling senators about the CRPD.) They are the reason I speak up when I am subjected to injustices because of who I am as a disabled woman. They are the reason I am going to graduate school for my M.A. in Disability Studies. They are the reason I want to keep pushing towards the changes we still so clearly need.

Therefore, lazy and careless are some of the last words I would use to describe myself or Maddy. A quick Google search of “Maddy Ruvolo” or “Emily Ladau” would show that our advocacy efforts are anything but lacking. We’re both immensely involved and dedicated to disability rights activism.

Maddy’s leadership essentially began the conversation about disability at her college, Scripps. She founded the Disability, Illness, and Difference Alliance to create social and cultural change throughout her campus. Before her senior year of college, Maddy also did an internship through AAPD in Congressman Alan Grayson’s office. Following graduation, she took on a job at an independent living center in California, where she’s working as a Systems Change Advocate. So, I say this not just because I’m her friend: Maddy is an incredible advocate and leader.

I’m no stranger to the advocacy world either. I started at age 10 on Sesame Street, educating kids about my life with a disability, and as I grew, I discovered disability rights was my passion. I publish regularly on disability issues both on this blog and in publications that are read globally. I am on the board of a New York State advocacy organization called Youth Power! and was just nominated to be the chair of the Outreach Committee. Advocacy and activism are huge parts of my life.

Because of all this, creating the Disabled Girls Talk podcast with Maddy seemed like a great way to capitalize on technology and expand the horizons of the work we’ve already been doing. Discussing the impact of the ADA on our lives is something we are both proud to have done, and we will continue to tackle more disability rights issues in all of our future endeavors.

I see the bigger picture here, and I have every last bit of faith that my fellow Generation ADA advocates do as well. We need the Ed Roberts’, the Justin Darts’, the Judy Heumanns’ of our generation to come forward and continue the fight. And you know what? I firmly believe they’re emerging more each day. We’re out there, working on the next wave of the American disability rights movement, forging ahead, and always grateful for the guidance of the activists who laid the groundwork for the lives we all live today.

Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act by Curbing the Heroes

I have never known life without the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law on July 26, 1990. My birthday is just one year and three days after this. In countless ways, the ADA has been a blessing. Places that my mom and my uncle (who are also disabled) could not have gone while growing up and things that were not accessible to them are open to me. Public attitudes towards disability have shifted significantly from prejudice to acceptance. Opportunities for the disability community continue to expand every day. It’s a beautiful thing to be alive with the ADA as a fixture of United States law, and I couldn’t be happier to ring in the 24th anniversary with optimism for the future.

The optimism I hold is crucial for advocates as we move towards the quarter-century mark of the ADA, because we must be hopeful that changes will continue to come. Far too many people believe that the work for disability equality is done, but we’re still just getting started. The ADA has been a source of immense change, but there is so much more to do. I am reminded of this every time I cannot get into a public place, even though it was supposed to become ADA compliant years ago. I am reminded of this every time I am subjected to stigmatization and exclusion. And I reminded of this every time I hear stories of discrimination and access barriers across the country, and know that I am not alone in the struggle.

So, in honor of the 24th anniversary of the ADA, I’d like to share a poem I wrote last year for my Disability and Social Justice class, entitled “Curbing the Heroes.” I hope it captures the complexities of having a disability in America – a lamentation of the access still needed, a celebration of independence, and a rallying call for advocates to never give up our fight.

Curbing the Heroes by Emily Ladau

I feel your eyes on me.
Intense gawking.
Inquisitive gaze.
Maybe an indifferent glance.

Roll on.
Let it roll off your shoulders.
That’s what I’m told.
And so I roll.

Bump. Screech. Crash.
I tried to roll forward.
I hit the curb.
The step is too high
to make it up
and over the barrier
of your discrimination.

The kind stranger armed with working limbs
swoops in to do his good deed.
Lifts me up, shoots down my pride.
I don’t want some everyday hero
coming to my rescue.
I want to be my own hero.

And so I fight. Fight to get over that curb.
Fight to get over discrimination not in leaps and bounds,
but in turns of the wheel –
Each unencumbered turn a small victory
On the inaccessible battlefields
that we will flatten and widen
and make ADA compliant
‘til we don’t need you and your two “working” legs
to save the day.

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