A few weeks ago, many disability rights advocates celebrated the 27th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed this landmark legislation into law.
I wanted to be in a celebratory mood on the anniversary of the ADA. Yet, as I suddenly remembered how far people with disabilities still need to come before they have the same opportunities as able-bodied people like me, the anniversary felt a little bittersweet.
Now, don’t get me wrong—in spite of the statement I just said, I think that the ADA is arguably the most significant piece of civil rights legislation in the last fifty years (the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965). It is a piece of legislation that improves the lives of millions of Americans, and it is a piece of legislation which, in many cases, enables disabled people to have access to the same opportunities that their able-bodied counterparts have.
While the legislation has improved the lives of millions, it still has a way to go to give disabled people the same access as able-bodied people.
For example, while transit access has improved for people with disabilities, they don’t have access equal to their able-bodied counterparts. One need not look further than the fact that subway systems in New York, Chicago, and Boston, for example, do not have universal wheelchair access (though New York’s situation is much worse than that of Boston or Chicago).
Furthermore, while many buildings now have ADA access, the quality of that access (in the form of things like elevators and ramps) can widely vary. Sometimes the ADA access is top-notch, and sometimes the access leaves something to be desired (everyone can probably think of examples of unreliable elevators).
There is the potential for people with disabilities in many cases to have opportunities similar to able-bodied people like me. But in many areas, that potential hasn’t been fully realized, even though the ADA was passed over a quarter century ago. And there is a certain disappointment, a certain bittersweetness, that I feel as a result of this potential that hasn’t been fully realized.
But why should you all, as readers, care about my being bittersweet about the anniversary of the ADA, let alone one of the reasons I feel bittersweet? I think all of you should care because my bittersweetness is a reminder for all of us that the advancement of disabled persons’ rights did not end with the ADA. Instead, the uneven progress in accessibility for people with disabilities is a reminder that there is still much to advocate for.