This week, we celebrate and applaud the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In our firm, we work each in every day to help individuals with disabilities achieve meaningful benefits and live a fulfilling life. The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 guarantee civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities—whether physical, cognitive or emotional– and prevent discrimination. The law ensures equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to public spaces, businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.
We reaffirm the findings of the ADA as articulated by Congress in 1990, which unfortunately remain equally true today:
- physical or mental disabilities in no way diminish a person’s right to fully participate in all aspects of society, yet many people with physical or mental disabilities have been precluded from doing so because of discrimination; others who have a record of a disability or are regarded as having a disability also have been subjected to discrimination;
- historically, society has tended to isolate and segregate individuals with disabilities, and, despite some improvements, such forms of discrimination against individuals with disabilities continue to be a serious and pervasive social problem;
- discrimination against individuals with disabilities persists in such critical areas as employment, housing, public accommodations, education, transportation, communication, recreation, institutionalization, health services, voting, and access to public services;
- unlike individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or age, individuals who have experienced discrimination on the basis of disability have often had no legal recourse to redress such discrimination;
- individuals with disabilities continually encounter various forms of discrimination, including outright intentional exclusion, the discriminatory effects of architectural, transportation, and communication barriers, overprotective rules and policies, failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, exclusionary qualification standards and criteria, segregation, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities;
- census data, national polls, and other studies have documented that people with disabilities, as a group, occupy an inferior status in our society, and are severely disadvantaged socially, vocationally, economically, and educationally;
- the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals; and
- the continuing existence of unfair and unnecessary discrimination and prejudice denies people with disabilities the opportunity to compete on an equal basis and to pursue those opportunities for which our free society is justifiably famous, and costs the United States billions of dollars in unnecessary expenses resulting from dependency and nonproductivity. Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C 12101(a) (1990).
As we move on to the next 25 years and beyond, we share a hope that the ADA will realize its potential of providing access and greater understanding to those with disabilities and full inclusion in society. We must focus understanding and research not only on those with obvious physical disabilities but for those with “hidden” disabilities that may not always be apparent but can be severely debilitating, as the ADA protects both physical and mental impairments. Our schools, workplaces and public spaces should work toward utilizing universal design so that all can access learning, programs and services in an individualized fashion, in a reasonable manner. We need research, understanding and best practices toward how we can help individuals facing challenges self-actualize and maintain true integration in society.
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