30 Years Later
July 26 marked the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As one of the world’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, the ADA set the standard for disability rights legislation, prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability, and brought wider protections in all areas of public life. In the last 30 years, the ADA has inspired additional disability rights legislation in the United States as well as international treaties like the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The United States remains a major source of inspiration for countries looking to develop disability rights legislation.
Non-discrimination, equal opportunity, accessibility, and dignity for all are fundamental principles enshrined in the ADA. Yet, they are being tested during the global pandemic.
Hospitals around the world are discriminating against persons with disabilities, denying access to proper care and COVID-19 treatment. We must hold governments, doctors, and healthcare workers accountable for providing equal COVID-19 treatment to patients with disabilities. These fundamental rights and values of equality, inclusion, and access matter now more than ever.
As Americans continue to demand equality and protest racial injustice, we note the powerful contributions of protests today and in years past. Protests have the power to raise consciousness and fundamentally change society; –our democratic institutions and fundamental freedoms of speech, press, and assembly create the right conditions to do so.
Protests and demonstrations were instrumental in securing rights for persons with disabilities and changing the narrative from individuals being objects of charity in need of social protection to subjects with rights and able to claim those rights. These protests showed the nation that persons with disabilities were the authors of their own narrative—that they could control their own lives and demand equality.
In 1977, protesters held a sit-in to demand the implementation of Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act, a law passed four years earlier that required nondiscrimination in federal programs. Tired of waiting for the federal government to implement the law, demonstrators across the nation sat in federal buildings and refused to leave for days. Protesters in San Francisco remained for nearly one month — this marked the longest nonviolent occupation of a U.S. federal building, a record the event still holds today. In March 1990, four months before the ADA was passed by Congress, disability rights activists staged a memorable protest on the steps of the U.S. capitol building. Protestors crawled up the steps without mobility aids to demonstrate the accessibility challenges they faced every day.
State Magazine’s July issue features an article that celebrates thirty years of the Americans with Disabilities Act, titled “ADA at 30: Appreciation from a Historical Perspective.”
Crip Camp Digital Interactive
On July 30, Jim Brecht and Judy Heumann joined a virtual discussion moderated by Dr. Anjali Forber-Pratt about the award-winning Netflix documentary, Crip Camp. Reflecting on the documentary’s footage of their younger selves, they discussed the importance of embracing Disability identity and how organizing and advocating for disability rights built a successful movement that created lasting and impactful change. Released in January 2020, the documentary focuses on life at Camp Jened, a camp for youth with disabilities in New York. The relatable and uplifting stories help viewers see the common message of ADA—that persons with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.
About the Author: Ryan Jolley is a Public Diplomacy Strategist in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.