Today, July 26, 2020, marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed into law. This monumental law holds significance as it is a core civil rights document written with the intent of creating an equal opportunity for and to prevent discrimination against every individual with a disability. The ADA is the core document of the disability rights movement but it is certainly not the beginning, or the end, of the disability community’s pursuit for equal opportunity, equity, and inclusion.
When celebrating this monumental act, we must not forget about the many who tirelessly advocated for the rights of the disability community as a whole. The 1960s and early 1970s brought the Disability Civil Rights Movement to history’s stage. Camp Jened, a camp for disabled kids and teens in New York, sparked the idea of what life could be like for people with disabilities.
In 1972, Judith Heumann, one of the attendees of Camp Jened, led a protest that shut down a street in New York City to gain the attention of President Richard Nixon to push forward with disability rights legislation that had stagnated. On September 26, 1973, President Nixon finally signed the Rehabilitation Act into law. This document gave the disability community rights within the federal sector. However, Section 504, the core of this act, was not enforced. Thus, the advocacy work continued.
In 1977, a group of disability advocates gathered and demonstrated the longest sit-in in a federal building in history. They peacefully occupied the fourth floor of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) building in San Francisco for 26 days to gain the attention of HEW Secretary, Joseph Califano. Due to these actions, Joseph Califano signed section 504 to enact its enforcement. Advocates pressed on to expand protected rights to the disability community beyond the federal sector which provided a foundation for the ADA.
On July 26, 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the ADA into law. The ADA was written with an essence as one single document cannot protect the needs of every person with a disability. Accessibility is not “one-size-fits-all” as what works for one person may not work for another. Accessibility is an investment, not an expense. Accessibility allows for the inclusion of the disability community which anyone can become a part of at any time. The ADA has given advocates the foundation to build off of and pursue a fully inclusive world for those of us with disabilities.
Throughout the past 30 years, many people with disabilities, including those of us at Wandke Consulting (WC), have continued to advocate for change as the disability community has faced unnecessary barriers and discrimination that the ADA was meant to prevent; the ADA enacted a good start but that start has yet to be fully accomplished. Even with the ADA and other disability-related civil rights documents, disability is often forgotten when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Disability is diversity. Disability is a minority but it is also extremely diverse in itself. Disability is a spectrum of abilities and with this comes a wide range of accessibility needs. When it comes to ensuring access, designers must think outside the box using the ADA as an accessibility foundation to build off of rather than up to. Society needs to move beyond the ADA and strive towards Universal Design so that everyone, no matter what age or ability, can utilize every design with minimal or no accommodations. In turn, society will be able to move towards being inclusive and equitable for every person, including those of us within the disability community.
When discussing DEI, a good thought to remember is that inclusion goes beyond accessibility. Access is being able to get to the table, while inclusion is being allowed to sit and converse at that table, to have a voice, and to be listened to. The ADA ensures access but not inclusion; it is through education and understanding that inclusion will come to fruition. We at Wandke Consulting bring that voice to the business sector for any entity striving to make their environment more accessible and inclusive to all.
In celebration of the ADA, take a moment to learn something about disability history and how those of us with disabilities want to have an equal opportunity to thrive just like everyone else. There is a phrase that the disability community has adopted, “nothing about us without us.” Look to advocates to better understand the disability community and our rights and desires. When accessibility and inclusion are built into the structure of society, the intent of the ADA will be fulfilled in providing an equal opportunity for all.
Are you interested in training your staff on these topics? Check out our Disability Inclusion Training offerings.