The ADA, 29 Years Later

What comes to mind when you hear the term the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? Have you heard of is? Maybe you have but cannot put your finger on what this law is for. You may have a guess due to its name or you do know. But what does the ADA mean and more importantly, what has it accomplished? 

Today, July 26, 2019, marks the 29th anniversary of ADA, a civil rights document that was signed into law with the intent of creating an equal opportunity for people with disabilities. The essence of this law is to protect the rights of the disability community by preventing discrimination in all areas of public life. However, the ADA is poorly enforced and has yet to be fully met. It does not fully protect the rights of the disability community. 

Many people with disabilities have faced unnecessary discrimination that the ADA should have eliminated. This has lead to many cases of litigation as currently, that is the best enforcement of the ADA. This is costly, but if an entity is breaking the law, they should not be allowed to continue to do so. Entities like the Metro Transportation Authority of New York City, Harvard University and Uber would rather fight in court than become compliant. Litigation is by far more expensive than becoming compliant with the ADA. There has been plenty of time to learn about the ADA and to build compliance into every business structure. 

Daman and Kyann have both had many experiences where the ADA did not protect them. By the time Kyann entered elementary school, eight years had passed since the signing of the ADA. Nevertheless, the ADA did not protect her right to attend the same school as the rest of the children in her neighborhood; she had to attend a different elementary school as the school she was supposed to attend was still not accessible. It never became accessible and instead closed in 2014 (24 years after the ADA was signed).

Kyann has also been denied access to riding the city bus three times in her hometown, not because the bus was full, but simply because the bus driver did not flip the ramp out to let her on. All three times occurred 21 years after the signing of the ADA. 

Both Kyann and Daman have run into the barrier of curb ramps either not being provided with a crosswalk or not existing at all. And both have been told by their city to just go a different way. They also attended the same public university in which they could not access the upper floors of multiple buildings and still has bathrooms as well as emergency safety zones that continue not to be in compliance with the ADA. 

The instances above are just a handful of experiences that Daman and Kysnn have faced where the ADA did not protect their rights to equal access. And, Daman and Kyann are two of 58 million people in the United States living with a disability. There are also many situations that would be compliant with the ADA that should not be considered okay. Like only needing elevators in buildings that have three or fewer stories if privately owned (like shops, hotels, apartments…). A person who cannot access stairs still cannot access stairs if there are stairs, period. Not just too manyof them.

And, planes? Planes are not even covered by the ADA due to the signing of the Air Carrier Access Act in 1986. However, that act has even more minimal coverage than the ADA making planes a true adventure for many people with disabilities. 

Access buttons, also known as door openers, are also not required by the ADA. However, the ADA does require accessible parking spots, curb ramps and accessible bathrooms, but this does not keep people from piling snow in access isles and in front of the curb ramps nor keep people from using the accessible bathroom as a storage room. These actions do not provide equal access. 

Daman created AbiliTrek due to the ADA not providing equal access. The ADA ultimately could not cover everything as accessibility is not one size fits all and a law is not capable of improving the mindset of our society regarding disability. However, the ADA is a foundation for what accessibility should be. It has provided AbiliTrek with a foundation to educate and advocate about the need for accessibility and this is how mindset will be changed. We have witnessed how the general public either does not know about the ADA and if they do, they do not understand it. To many people, the ADA is just an extra expense that in turn adds to the mindset that those of us with disabilities are a burden on society. When people don’t live it, they don’t have to think about it. This leads to ignorance and a lack of understanding.

The ADA is an important piece of history and we at AbiliTrek are determined to continue to bring positive impact to society.