The Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Today, July 26, 2016 is the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). It was signed into law back in 1990. This is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.
Seniors who have health conditions affecting mobility, accessibility, vision, hearing, and cognition have rights under this law. According to the ADA National Network, people with disabilities are the “largest and fastest-growing minority in the U.S. They control $1 trillion in total annual income.” Seniors with health conditions and persons with disabilities form two groups who are a significant percentage of the population in our nation. The ADA has a significant impact on our society.
The ADA helps people with disabilities have access to jobs and job benefits. The ADA applies to businesses that have 15 or more employees and requires such employers to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled applicants and employees. This part of the ADA, Title I, is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Title II of the ADA prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by programs, services and activities operated by state and local governments. This means that courthouses and city halls are accessible to those with physical disabilities now. This means that government agencies make phone services available to the deaf, like those who use TTY phone services. Public transportation, such as buses, and passenger train (rail) service which includes subways (rapid rail), light rail, commuter rail, and Amtrak are open to persons with disabilities under this part of the law.
Title III applies to privately-owned businesses who offer public accommodations and services, such as restaurants, theaters, doctors’ offices, and stores. So the ADA law sets the standards for modification of facilities so that barriers are removed. New buildings must offer accessible entrances, exits, parking spaces, and restrooms. The ADA also directed privately owned business to offer services that are reasonable to assist persons with disabilities. This includes things such as a personal shopping helper, a wheelchair cart, and wheelchair accessible tables. Businesses must also take steps to communicate effectively with customers with vision, hearing, and speech disabilities. This part of the law is regulated by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Title IV requires telephone and Internet companies to provide a national system of telecommunications relay services. This allows individuals with hearing and speech disabilities to communicate over the telephone. Closed captioning of television public service announcements is mandated by this part of the ADA. The Federal Communication Commission enforces this law.
On this anniversary, think of all the things that seniors and caregivers take for granted now that were once closed to those with physical or cognitive disabilities. Do you park in a handicapped parking space, use a wheelchair accessible ramp at a public building, or use a telephone adapted for the hearing impaired? Do you appreciate the cutaway curbs when out walking on public sidewalks? Have you used services for the disabled at airports, museums, or hospitals? The Americans with Disabilities Act made American society aware of the needs of people with disabilities and brought independence and opportunity to them.
Our society is better for it.