July 26, 2014, marks 24 years of progress made since the passage of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But while much progress has been made, disability advocates like Paralyzed Veterans of America continue to push for needed reforms, from ratifying an international disability treaty to removing architectural, employment and attitudinal barriers for individuals with disabilities.
“The ADA represents comprehensive disability civil rights that still are being actively enforced by all the agencies,” said Lee Page, associate advocacy director at Paralyzed Veterans of America. “ADA is a living and breathing law that will be with us for the rest of time until architectural and employment barriers and other issues are put to rest.”
Paralyzed Veterans helped lead the charge for passage of the act in 1990 and has since fought against efforts to weaken it. Since its enactment, the ADA has been influential in fighting discrimination in areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications for individuals with disabilities.
Still, the law has not been a cure-all in fighting discrimination and ensuring disability access, and Paralyzed Veterans of America continues to fight for accessibility in areas including architecture and employment.
“People with disabilities are still the most unemployed segment of society, even though they’re very highly educated and qualified in many instances depending on what the job is,” Page said. “They just need a reasonable accommodation in most cases.”
June 2014 also marked 15 years since the Supreme Court’s 1999 landmark decision in Olmstead v. L.C., which ruled that the ADA requires individuals with disabilities be integrated in the community rather than be forced into nursing homes and other institutions. A report released in 2013 by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chief sponsor of the ADA in 1990, found that by 2010, just 12 states had made acceptable progress in implementing Olmstead. Integrating those with disabilities back into society requires federal and state agencies to provide effective supports, Page said.
Now 24 years removed from the law’s passage, it also remains a challenge to ensure the current class of federal lawmakers fully understand and support the law, Page said. Last fall, Paralyzed Veterans joined other disability advocates on Capitol Hill to educate lawmakers and congressional staff on the ADA and the value it holds to veterans in the workplace.
“It is necessary to rebrief Congress because they don’t know the law,” Page said. “If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind, and they go trample it or listen to somebody else who has a bigger voice.”
Paralyzed Veterans of America also continues to push for the Senate to ratify the Convention for the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, a treaty modeled after the ADA that would promote and protect the rights of people with disabilities in 150 countries. Sign the petition in support of the CRPD at this link.
“Governments realize that their citizens need an ADA and see the CRPD as an umbrella that gives permission to incorporate ADA philosophies into their own populations,” Page said.
Learn more about the Americans with Disabilities Act
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.