Friday, July 26 marks the 29th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by President George H. W. Bush. Prior to the ADA’s passage, Congress established a task force chaired by Justin Dart and co-chaired by Dr. Elizabeth Boggs of The Arc.
In 1988, the task force released a report with four preliminary recommendations to Congress:
- Move quickly to enact an effective Americans with Disabilities Act
- Provide leadership to ensure that people with disabilities have roles with significant responsibility (e.g., employment)
- Continue to work toward a full spectrum of effective services and support systems
- Ensure the effective implementation and enforcement of rights and services legislation (education, health care specifically cited)
The recommendations challenged Congress and our nation in a way that has been rarely matched. Congress did act quickly and in a bi-partisan manner, passing the bill in a relatively short period of time. Yet we continued to face barriers almost immediately as the ADA was challenged in the U. S. Supreme Court, resulting in the Olmstead decision.
Today, revisionists claim that the ADA is only about personal or societal prejudice and bias. In other words, there should be no concrete actions to change our educational settings, health care systems, and public accommodations. There has been progress, though, as reflected in transportation systems, education, and health settings – but these are incomplete, sometimes related to funding but often related to a lack of advocacy.
For example, individuals with intellectual disabilities could greatly benefit from smart technology in public transportation. Smart phones help, but more can be done to address this need. And too many school systems make families fight for the right educational plans. This means many students lose out on preparation for adult life if their parents don’t have the means or time to advocate.
Though the above recommendations may have been made over 30 years ago in 1988, the spirit and commitment reflected within them are no less vital today.
Happy 29th anniversary to the Americans with Disabilities Act, and here’s to a stronger, more inclusive future.
Leo V. Sarkissian