DisABILITY Series - The Americans with Disabilities Act

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Introducing the DisABILITY Series, where we provide you with information about ways to improve your lifestyle and educate about the progression of the disability community. Despite your disability, whether mental and/or physical, this series will help to advocate and provide helpful knowledge. Today, let's start with an important piece of legislature that everyone should be aware of, that's right, the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act, typically known as the ADA, is an important piece of legislation that most people don't know much about. The Americans with Disabilities Act was designed to protect and expand the rights of the disabled, and has had a huge impact on both people with disabilities and those around them.

At its core, the ADA is a civil rights bill, designed to stop discrimination against a traditionally marginalized group. The ADA bans discrimination against the disabled in employment, as well as in government, both local and federal. It also prohibits discrimination from transportation, commercial groups and facilities, and communications.

Titles of the ADA

Perhaps one of the most notable aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act is Title I, which covers employment. Any company with more than fifteen employees, including any religious institutions, are legally barred from any form of discrimination against the disabled. In short, unless a person's disability precludes them from performing their duties, the ADA legally protects you from discrimination.

In addition, employers must make any "reasonable accommodation" for disabled employees. This can include:

  • Time off for medical treatments,
  • Providing additional space to store vital medical equipment such as wheelchairs or oxygen tanks, or
  • The installation of wheelchair ramps.

The ADA also applies to government agencies. No matter how big or small the government agency or department, disabled individuals are guaranteed access not only to all government buildings, but to all government services as well. This includes disabled access to federal, state, and local government buildings, and easy access to government services, ranging from voting to social services.

Under Title II, the Americans with Disabilities Act also applies to public transportation, be it trains and buses. If the individual's disability requires transportation to and from the transportation vehicle—for example, if you are unable to reach the train under your own locomotion—the agency is required to supply it.

Title III protects the disabled from discrimination in public places. It not only guarantees entrance to buildings and vehicles, but also ensures that you won’t be segregated, receive unequal treatment or any discrimination. Title III protects:

  • Publically-owned spaces, such as state owned parks and buildings
  • Privately run institutions and buildings open to the public
    • Applies to stores, movie theaters, zoos, gyms, among others
  • Private Transportation, including taxis, airplanes, ferries and limousines

Lastly, Title IV of the ADA deals with telecommunications. Public carriers like TV and telephone companies must make their services accessible to the disabled. This includes phone companies supporting the use of teletypewriters for the hearing disabled and closed captions for public service announcements.

History of the ADA

Iowa senator Tom Harkin originally proposed the American with Disabilities Act to the senate in 1988. The bill was designed to end discrimination against individuals with physical and/or mental disabilities. Unless the person's disability directly stops them from performing their duties, an employer can't discriminate against the disabled in hiring, firing, or any other aspect of their business.

Support for the ADA was significant, especially among the disabled community. Perhaps the best known pro-ADA event was the Capitol Crawl, where a number of disabled individuals put down their crutches and canes, got out of their wheelchairs, and began to crawl up the steep stone steps of the Capitol Building in Washington D.C. While the Capitol Crawl is not well-known today, many believe it had an impact on the passing of the ADA.

There was some minor opposition to the ADA, specifically from certain business interests, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, who feared that the ADA would present impairment to many businesses. It also faced, and continues to face, opposition from people who consider it to be unnecessarily restrictive legislation.

However, the bill was passed by a huge majority in the senate—76 voting for it and only eight against—and was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives. The bill was signed into law by president George H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990.

Since then, the ADA has been a great benefit to Americans with disabilities. Not only has it done much to curb outright discrimination, at least from a legal point of view, and has given disabled individuals many of the same access and opportunities that the non-disabled enjoy. It also gives the disabled legal recourse if and when they are discriminated against. 

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