July 5, 2022

Then and Now: Celebrating 32 Years of the ADA

A child with a cognitive disability wearing a yellow shirt and glasses sitting next to an adult wearing a blue shirt in a classroom.

Imagine you are involved in an accident and need to temporarily use a walker. On the day you return to work, you must park far from the door and then negotiate several steps to get into the building. Once inside, you realize that there are no elevators to your office on the third floor. You call your supervisor, who tells you that if you can’t get to the third floor, that’s your problem. No, he can’t allow you to work remotely or arrange for an office on the first floor. Either get to the third floor or get fired.

Taken as a whole, this scenario might seem far-fetched. However, this was the reality for many people with disabilities before July 26, 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law.

Today, many of us take for granted the access and opportunities that the ADA made possible. They are such a part of our daily lives that we don’t think about them, but things have definitely changed! Let’s take a look at a few examples of what life was like before the ADA and what has happened since.

Then: People with disabilities could not legally request accommodations in the workplace.

Now: Title I of the ADA outlaws discriminatory practices against an individual who is “qualified to perform the essential functions of the job with or without reasonable accommodation.” This applies to employers with 15 or more employees and includes employment practices such as hiring, pay, leave, benefits, and job assignments. Employers must also provide reasonable accommodations to ensure employees and applicants enjoy benefits and privileges equal to those without disabilities.

Then: Children with disabilities were not guaranteed access to public schools.

Now: Thanks to Title II of the ADA, in conjunction with two other landmark laws, children with disabilities are guaranteed comparable access to public education. Providing this access may include removing communication barriers by providing ASL interpreters for d/Deaf children or offering auxiliary aids like large print materials for students with low vision. Title II also ensures that all people with disabilities have access to services, programs, and activities provided by local and state governments.

Then: While staying in a hotel, a person with a mobility disability might not have been able to access the toilet in their room.

Now: Under Title III of the ADA, all private businesses that accommodate the public are required to provide equal access to the goods and services they provide. In the example of a hotel, they must offer rooms that provide accessibility features such as roll-in showers, wider doorways, and grab bars.

Then: Individuals who were d/Deaf or hard of hearing were unable to access important public service announcements (PSAs) – like emergency broadcasts – on television.

Now: Title IV of the ADA requires that closed captioning is provided for all PSAs that are partially or fully funded by the federal government. In addition, it required telephone companies to provide telephone relay services that allow those with hearing or speech disabilities to communicate over the phone through a teletypewriter (TTY).

Thanks to the ADA, our country and community have become more accessible for people with disabilities, but we still have work to do. If you would like to know more about your rights under the ADA or how you can help break down barriers to equal access, contact The Independence Center at 719-471-8181 or info@the-ic.org.