What better way to wrap up our year-long celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) than by hearing from a primary sponsor and advocate for the landmark legislation, Tony Coehlo. Here are few of his thoughts on the passage of the ADA and what needs to happen to continue moving forward.
As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) I’ve reflected on the momentous occasion when
President George H. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. The groundbreaking civil rights legislation would prohibit discrimination, while ensuring equal opportunity, for individuals with disabilities.
Though much more commonly appreciated now, at the time the ADA transformed the fabric of American life for individuals with disabilities.
Prior to the law, individuals with disabilities had no unique rights. A blind person could be legally removed from a restaurant because he couldn’t read the menu. A woman in a wheelchair could be legally removed from a movie theater because her chair was an inconvenience to others. And men and women throughout the country were legally refused employment because they had a disability of some kind.
For myself, I came to learn this. First diagnosed with epilepsy as a teenager after being in an accident in my family’s pickup truck on our dairy farm in rural California.
Though at first my family hid the diagnosis from me, and it later drove me into dark period in my life, through the grace of many committed people, I eventually turned my energy into passion for making life better for others.
In fact, what drove me to pursue public office was my epilepsy.
As I became more educated about disabilities, and grew into leadership positions within the House of Representatives, I learned that there was a whole group of our population that was experiencing discriminatory actions.
This realization lead me and several others to pursue the creation and passage of ADA.
Today, approximately 59 million (or one in five) Americans suffer from a disability. And while ADA provides many basic rights, there is still much to be done.
The Obama administration has been most aggressive in implementing and enforcing the rights promised by ADA but we must make sure the momentum continues through the 2016 presidential election and into the next administration.
From a policy perspective gaps remain when it comes to providing good jobs and quality transportation to disabled individuals.
Having employment provides a sense of pride and legitimacy in American society. It also provides a paycheck and the ability to live independently.
And access to transportation is crucial because it too often is the hurdle that prevents a person with a disability from being able to dependably remain employed.
These are truths regardless of whether you are disabled or not. We just need to do better at ensuring that those who are disabled have access to each as equally as those who do not.
Globally, we need to continue the discussion as well by encouraging the U.S. Senate to ratify the International Disabilities Treaty
For these reasons and more we need young people – and everyone with a disability – to participate, speak up, share their stories and get active in bringing about this important social change.
Please join me in renewing our commitment to the ADA’s promise as we celebrate the incredible progress we have made as a nation during the past twenty-five years on behalf of millions of people.
Former U.S. Rep. Tony Coelho was the author of the ADA.