My sister was born – with physical and developmental disabilities – just 45 days before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990.
The ADA took effect as we were growing up. The ADA, along with the groundwork laid by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Rehabilitation Act of 1973 meant that we had immensely more access than the generations before us. My sister could attend the same schools, and participate in the same events. She couldn’t be denied access to town events and local businesses. By the time we were old enough to notice, we expected basic accessibility in most places.
However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized how many of the routes and routines that I never thought twice about were actually defined by wheelchair access:
- QFC, not Albertson’s grocery
- Always the drive-through, never the sit-down
- Always the elevator, never the escalator
And then I remember the ones that were obvious, when we were not quite welcome, but technically allowed in, like using the garbage ramp in the back door of our 1970’s era high school auditorium.
Unfortunately, too many places today still look the way they did in the early 1990’s and dictate the routes and routines of disabled people’s lives by when and where each place decides to follow the law. Technical compliance is enough, even when it doesn’t feel like real access or inclusion.
A friend of mine who uses a wheelchair noted that her life is circumscribed by the accessible routes of her town. She’s never been down certain streets, except in a car.
We still have so much work to do.
Unfortunately, current efforts in Congress would roll back the basic ADA protections we have now. As part of this, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing about the ADA, that wasn’t even captioned.
We are celebrating the 26th anniversary of the ADA, and we should. We have come so far. But this sib also looks forward to spending the next 26 years making sure that access and inclusion are a reality, in each place and for each family.