Happy birthday, ADA – historic disability legislation turns 29
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 29 this week. Passed July 26, 1990, the law provides people with disabilities the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
The ADA means a great deal to Abdi Warsame, a senior strategic pricing manager for AT&T Business Mobility in Dallas, and Vivian Kline, an AT&T service representative in Cape Girardeau, Mo. As passionate accessibility advocates, both Abdi and Vivian serve as presidents of their respective AT&T Ability chapters. AT&T Ability is AT&T’s employee resource group that supports the advancement of people with disabilities in the workplace and the community.
Abdi uses a wheelchair after a rocket explosion in his native Somalia killed his cousin and left him with an irreparable spinal cord injury. Vivian experienced seizures throughout her life and now combats “hidden” disabilities including lupus and fibromyalgia, illnesses that can be constant or cause occasional debilitating flare-ups.
For Abdi, ramps, curb cuts, elevators and sidewalks provide access that allows him to be Always Rolling Forward, the title of his new book. “The ADA makes all of that possible.”
For Vivian, the ADA means she can’t be discriminated against as she was in school. Or fired from jobs for non-performance issues related to a disability. Or turned down for temporary disability by the government as she was decades ago after initially being given three months to live. “They turned me down because I was either going to get better or I was going to die. The ADA says you can’t do that.”
But for all of its success in helping people with disabilities … to lead fuller, more rewarding lives … there is opportunity for the legislation to evolve. Vivian believes there’s more education needed for employers, the public and even doctors. “It would be great if there was a campaign encouraging people to not judge what they can’t see. There’s a hidden element to some disabilities and it’s public reaction like those judgments that make people keep them that way.”
Abdi would like to see today’s technology leveraged even more to help those unable to see or hear. “Someone who uses a hearing aid hears what everyone else hears when going to a movie theater, a town hall or a concert,” Abdi said. “The experience should be the same for all.”
As it turns 29, the ADA can celebrate ground-breaking progress in helping people with disabilities succeed. Providing more education about disabilities, whether visible or not, and driving innovation in accessible technologies, will make further meaningful progress toward inclusion.