Today marks the 20th anniversary of the date the Americans With Disabilities Act was signed into law. This landmark piece of legislation resulted in tremendous gains for people with disabilities in the United States, but it’s important to remember that we have a long way to go; I’ve read a string of articles this morning treating ableism and disability discrimination as things of the past that occurred in the dark days before the ADA in the United States, celebrating the ADA as a comprehensive victory for people with disabilities.
It was a victory, but it was not a comprehensive one. The ADA created a legislative framework for identifying and addressing specific discrimination issues, but as any person with disabilities in the United States can tell you, we continue to face discrimination, including flagrant violations of the ADA itself justified with claims that it’s ‘too expensive’ or ‘there aren’t enough of you people to make it worth it anyway.’
You can’t legislate ableism away. Antidiscrimination laws are excellent, but they are not the final answer. We still face tremendous economic and social disparities, are more likely to go to bed hungry, to live in poverty, to be assaulted and abused, to be unemployed, to be excluded.
As we continue to fight not only for our rights, but for our lives, and for full and equal integration into society, I’d like to celebrate gains like the ADA, while also looking ahead to not only future legislation, but future shifts in social attitudes.
Writing about the ADA today, Senator Tom Harkin, who introduced the bill initially, says:
Every individual with a disability deserves a chance “to live in the world” – to hold a job, start a business, pay taxes and reside with family or in the community.
Despite the great progress, our work is far from complete. For example, millions of people with disabilities – including young people – are housed in institutional settings like nursing homes. With appropriate community-based services and supports, they can have the option of living with family and friends — not strangers. The new health reform law makes some progress on this, but we need to do even more.
Here’s to another 20 years of progress, to disability rights, to disability justice, to equality for all.
The battle isn’t over, not in the United States, and not in the rest of the world.