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George Bush sits, signing the ADA, surrounded by four others.

President George H.W. Bush signs ADA into law on South Lawn of the White House, 1990 —National Archives and Records Administration

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990.  Now, 26 years after its passage, we want to provide an overview of the ADA and progress throughout history since the signing of groundbreaking law.

Certainly, the ADA is a very important Federal Civil Rights Law for several reasons.  The central concept of the ADA is to explicitly prohibit discrimination against persons with disabilities.  Another essential element of the ADA is the promotion of equal access and opportunity for persons with disabilities.  Obviously, both of these important ideals contribute greatly to our success as a nation and uphold the rights of all Americans.

The mandates of non-discrimination and equal access and opportunity are achieved through clear, detailed and enforceable standards under the ADA’s five titles: Title I: Employment, Title II: State and Local Government, Title III: Public Accommodations, Title IV: Telecommunications and Title V: Miscellaneous.

Since 1990 there have been several significant changes to the ADA, notably the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008.  These amendments became necessary due to a series of judicial rulings, particularly certain Supreme Court decisions, which left many persons with disabilities unprotected by the ADA.  In response, Congress took action to enact the ADAAA, including the “Rules of Construction,” which broadened the definition of disability that the courts had narrowed.

Another significant change came with the 2010 ADA Standards for Accessible Design, which set the minimum standards for what makes a facility accessible to persons with disabilities.  The 2010 Standards establish detailed requirements for how Title II, III and federal facilities are to be made “accessible to and usable by” persons with disabilities.

The ADA Standards for Accessible Design were part of a final rule to amend the Department of Justice’s regulation implementing Title III of the ADA.  The rule also provided guidance on ticket sales for accessible seating, defined “service animal” as “a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability,” addressed “other power-driven mobility devices,” as well as other notable changes.

The ADA provides persons with disabilities equal protections under the law and supports our principles that America is a land of equality for all its people with any type of ability.  Essentially, the ADA represents freedom and opportunities for persons with disabilities, which were it not for the ADA, would be much more difficult to realize.

As we celebrate the 26th anniversary of the ADA certainly it is fitting to reflect on words from that day’s signing ceremony when President Bush said;

Now I sign legislation that takes a sledgehammer to another wall, one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp…we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America…I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say: let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.  —George H. W. Bush.

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