Happy 30th, ADA!

Kelly Campbell

When Judy Heumann was growing up in the 1950s, the New York City school system barred her from attending school and instead gave her only two and a half hours a week of home instruction. Why? She was in a wheelchair, as a result of polio, and school administrators refused to accommodate her in a classroom.
Heumann grew up to become a leading advocate for disability rights. She helped organize a 1977 protest that occupied a federal building in San Francisco and focused national attention on discrimination against the disabled. After a long political fight, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act on July 26, 1990 — 30 years ago this Sunday.
Few modern laws have had as big of an impact on Americans’ lives, and the anniversary has led to reflections on what the A.D.A. has — and has not — accomplished. (Here is a package of Times stories.)
Today, no child can legally be denied schooling because of a disability. Workplaces and public spaces have been transformed. And many nondisabled people have benefited as well: I often felt grateful for the A.D.A. while pushing a stroller around New York (and not having to lift it over curbs).

But it’s also clear that disabled Americans continue to endure inequities:
  • Only 19 percent of adults with disabilities held jobs last year, compared with 66 percent of those without disabilities.
  • Children with physical and intellectual disabilities have fewer options for extracurricular activities and job training.
  • Disabled people are more likely to be incarcerated or to be victims of police violence, especially if they are not white.
  • Voter turnout is low, partly because of logistical difficulties. (“If people with disabilities voted at the same rate as otherwise-similar people without disabilities, there would be an additional 2.35 million voters,” a Rutgers University analysis concluded.)
  • Because the A.D.A. didn’t require all old buildings to be retrofitted, many remain inaccessible.