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A Before and After Look at the Americans With Disabilities Act

  • Government Affairs,
  • disability,
  • ADA Act

Since the early 20th century, many people with disabilities and chronic mental health conditions were not treated equally. While public policy began to shift in the mid-1900s, it was not until the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 that disability rights dramatically changed.


Life Before the ADA 

The equality of people with disabilities was first recognized by the government in the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which prohibited discrimination based on disability in programs conducted by federal agencies. Although the disabled community was equal on paper, they were not always given equal opportunities in life.


While places like libraries, schools, public transportation, offices, and more were all available to the public, they were not always accessible. For example, some people had to abandon their wheelchairs to be able to use public transportation. Restrictions like these prevented disabled people from visiting a lot of places, and therefore limited opportunities for equality. 


Over a decade after the Rehabilitation Act was passed, the National Council on Disability released the Toward Independence report of legislative recommendations, which lead to more rights being put into place for the disabled community on a federal level. One of which was the Fair Housing Act of 1988, which prohibited housing discrimination based on disability. 


All these smaller legislative acts lead to the ADA being signed into law in 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. The ADA states that governments shall not discriminate against the provision of services, programs, or activities based upon disability.


Rights Protected by the ADA

  1. Employment
    Prohibits discrimination in the recruitment, hiring, and training phases as well as promotions, pay, and social activities. Additionally, it restricts questions that can be asked throughout the hiring process and requires that employers make reasonable accommodations to known physical or mental limitations of otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities.
  2. Transportation
    Requires public transportation authorities to make current vehicles more accessible, ensure accessibility in newly purchased vehicles, and provide paratransit in the event vehicles cannot be made more accessible. 
  3. Housing
    Protects the right from the Fair Housing Act which prohibits discrimination based on disability
  4. Education
    All public schools must be available to disabled children in the least restrictive environment appropriate to their needs. Furthermore, schools must make accommodations to include all students in all activities to the best of their ability.
  5. Telecommunications
    Common carriers are required to establish telecommunication services that enable users with hearing and speech disabilities to use third-party accessible features for telephones and televisions access, such as closed captioning. 


Post ADA World

Many monumental events have happened thanks to the ADA.


  • In 1999, the Olmstead Decision declared that people with disabilities had the right to choose where and how they wanted to live. This made community-based living an achievable and fundamental right for people with disabilities.
  • The first Disability Pride Parade took place in Chicago in July of 2004. The annual event is celebrated each July to honor the anniversary of the ADA. Disability Pride is about embracing identities, raising awareness, and finding moments of joy and solidarity in the fight for inclusion. 
  • The ADA Amendments Act was signed in 2008 to further protect the rights under the ADA. 

Become an Advocate & Protect the ADA

This year, we celebrate 32 years of the ADA and recognize all the positive changes that have come from it. It is important to remember that these rights are hard-fought and in need of protection. You can advocate for the ADA by spreading awareness to ensure its rights are upheld or by getting involved with organizations to make sure the voices of disabled people are heard within their community. 


To learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act, check out this video!