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Happy National Disability Independence Day!

July 07, 2023

By John Mauricio, Assistant Program Supervisor 

33 years ago on July 26th, National Disability Independence Day became a federally recognized holiday to celebrate the 1990 signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This was the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. This bill prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities and guarantees their civil right access to education, transportation, employment, and other services previously not legally entitled to them through reasonable accommodations, including at universities and colleges.

From the late 1960’s, when the Americans with disabilities movement got its real start, the members of this group began to resist the old view that certain people were lacking in value and needed to be segregated from civic life. The broader civil rights movements of the day were the impetus behind the organization of information and eventual legislative policy change and push-back against these ignorant views that were widely shared at the time.

The Americans with Disabilities Act was the successor of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Where public policy shifted at that time to include wording prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities, the ADA was designed to build on that platform and expand the actual rights of people with disabilities and include freedom from employment discrimination, access to all levels of government, public establishments, transportation, and communication.

Challenges from employers like United Airlines and Chevron, who either denied employment due to disability or flat-out termination of employment, prompted amendments to the act in 2008 and again in 2017. The 2008 amendments expanded the definition of disability and enabled many more individuals to qualify for protection under the ADA, and the 2017 amendments further expanded access standards to include current-generation electronic and digital technology that are prevalent in today’s world.

Along with the increase to access of information, education, and employment, the impact on society can be seen in many other areas of life now. Along with the things taken for granted such as elevators and escalators in many public places along with ramps for easier access, there are also things that people without disabilities don’t think about or possibly never knew existed. Things like going to the movies while having a visual impairment was impossible to enjoy before the ADA. These individuals can now go and hear an audio description through provided headphones of what is happening on-screen between dialogue; and at concerts and other public events there are ASL interpreters for those with hearing impairment. There are many more examples of this that are prevalent now and increasing the productivity and enjoyment of all people in our society. 

July 26th is a day that shows us a glimpse at how far society has come in recent years to be inclusive, it also prompts and urges us forward to develop new ideas and take actions to better serve all people in society, and to see everyone for who they truly are, no more or less important or worthy than anyone else.

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