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Happy Belated Birthday, ADA!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Laura Caccioppoli
August 25, 2015

Happy belated birthday to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)! On July 26, 2015, the ADA turned 25 years old. The most recent Census data suggests that there are 56.7 million people living with a disability. With approximately 19 percent of the American population – that is one in every five people – having a disability, the ADA impacts millions.

2013_0726_ada_anniversary -LC photo

Credit: AP Photo

As the baby boomers continue to age, it is likely that we will see the number of persons with disabilities dramatically rise. As public administrators, we must be prepared to handle these challenges. It is so important we know where the ADA came from, what impacts this Act has made and where we can improve.

There is overwhelming support for the ADA. Approximately 83 percent of Americans support the ADA, while only 5 percent disapprove of the law. Many Democrats, including presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, show support as well as Republicans such as former president George H. Bush (who signed the bill into law), and his son, George W., who signed the American with Disabilities Amendments Act. Support for the ADA does not change much across party lines although, more Democrats (93 percent) than Republicans (77 percent) support the law.

Despite such broad support, Republican presidential hopefuls do not seem to share these sentiments. Politicians such as Rand Paul believe the ADA not only creates a burden on American businesses, but that these burdens are so significant that the regulations should be removed.  Paul, and other like-minded politicians, argues that the states should institute the regulations, not the federal government. However, it seems unjust that a person should be limited to living, working or playing in one particular state just because they have a disability.

These arguments are not new.  Former president George H. Bush, who signed the law in 1990, first fought against Sec. 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, a predecessor of sorts to the ADA. Sec. 504 prohibited discrimination based on ability for organizations receiving federal dollars. It also acted as the framework for the ADA. However, Sec. 504 did something else. It gave people with disabilities the opportunity to mobilize as a class, by recognizing persons with disabilities as a minority group. Previously, people with disabilities were classified by the unique disability, making it difficult to unify.

Unfortunately, by the 1980s, this victory was threatened. Reagan looked to remove burdensome regulations to businesses, and as you might guess, Sec. 504 fit the bill (pun intended).

To understand why it is so important that we keep the ADA in place, and also improve upon it, let us examine what the ADA did.

Title I: Requires that employers with 15 or more employees create reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.

Title II: Pertains to the public sector. Those with disabilities cannot be discriminated against when it comes to services and programs.

Title III: Requires that public accommodations not discriminate against persons with disabilities, that new building be accessible and that existing buildings create reasonable modifications.

Title IV: Seeks to promote accessibility in telecommunications including closed captioning for federally funded programs.

Title V: Prevents retaliation against a person who brings a lawsuit under the ADA. Look here to see what else Title V covers.

So why should public administrators care? Consider Republican sponsor of the ADA, Sen. Bob Dole’s comments, 

“Requiring places of business to accommodate disabled people is an obviously worthy undertaking, but it isn’t necessarily a cheap or easy thing to do…the ADA shows that once upon a time not too long ago, Republicans in Congress were happy to override that objection if they viewed the underlying regulatory goals as particularly worthy.”

As Sen. Dole said, the goals are particularly worthy. Increasing freedom, liberty, and the ability of individuals to make their own decisions is at the heart of our Constitution.

While there are many victories for the ADA, we still have work to do. About 40 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed. Those who are able to work are paid on average 30 percent less than their coworkers. There are still buildings without ramps and restaurants that turn away seeing-eye-dogs. The goal to improve accessibility in our society is as important as ever.

What is wonderful about the disability rights movement is its inclusiveness. The changes that help make society accessible for persons with a disability are the same that make society more accessible for all of us. The concept of universal design, or creating environments accessible to all persons, is not only practical, but makes it possible for an aging population to remain at home and in their community.

For those needing an economic incentive, creating these universally designed spaces has the potential to create new intellectual property, increase efficiency and productivity and make us more competitive in the global market. Creating mixed income housing can help those struggling from a poor economy, the aging population who must downsize or who are living on a fixed income and those who are living with a disability. Ensuring that all Americans have access to quality affordable health care helps people of all abilities.

As public administrators, we dedicate our lives to helping others, regardless of ability. Expanding and enforcing the Americans with Disabilities Act will ensure that all Americans, regardless of ability, can participate in our society and enjoy the freedom, liberty, and dignity of making their own decisions. Since we never know what our abilities will be tomorrow, enforcing and expanding the ADA just makes sense.


Author: Laura Caccioppoli recently graduated from Villanova University with an M.A. in political science and a graduate certificate in nonprofit management. She currently works as a service coordinator in Philadelphia. Her research interests are in health policy, cultural competency and social justice. Laura enjoys running, cooking and crossword puzzles.

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One Response to Happy Belated Birthday, ADA!

  1. Julie Ann Racino Reply

    September 4, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Congratulations to our newest graduates in political science and non-profit management, a growing sector of the economy.

    Those of us who are the “non-disabled” in the 1970s organizing efforts and employer consultations on the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, amended in 1978 appreciate the continued “minority group” efforts of the disability NGOs in the US.

    Happy Birthday Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 as the US social and civil rights legislation in disability. And best wishes for a return to the grandeur of all in the ADA disability classes.

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