A Look Back in History: The Americans with Disabilities Act

A Look Back in History: The Americans with Disabilities Act Most of us have friends or family members with a disability, or we might even have one ourselves.

Despite that fact, we often don’t think about how protections such as the Americans with Disabilities Act provide equal opportunities for everyone in our country. 

On July 26th the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 25th anniversary. Therefore this week we will be focusing in on the act, it’s history, and how it has affected millions of Americans both here on our blog and through our social networks. 

The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.

The ADA became law on July 26, 1990. This civil rights law protects individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including:

  • Jobs
  • Schools
  • Transportation
  • All public and private places that are open to the general public

Today, we celebrate and honor this significant civil rights victory by looking back at the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Civil Rights Movement In The 1960s

The civil rights movement of the 1960s gave rise to other civil rights movements, most notably the women’s rights movement, and the disability rights movement.

While minorities and women were protected by civil rights legislation passed by the United States Congress during the 1960s, the rights of people with disabilities were not protected by federal legislation until much later.

During the 1960s, three major pieces of civil rights legislation were passed by the United States Congress. These pieces of legislation were:

  • Civil Rights Act of 1964: This act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, and national origin. Broad in scope, it covered those receiving federal funds, employers, and places of public accommodation such as bus stations and restrooms.
  • Voting Rights Act of 1965: This protected the rights of minorities to vote in elections.
  • Civil Rights Act of 1968: The act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, national origin, and sex in the sale and rental of housing.

However, none of these acts did not protect people with disabilities. The disability rights movement grew out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Disability Protection Begins In The 1970s

Discrimination against people with disabilities was not addressed until 1973 when Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 became law.

For the first time, with this act, segregation of people with disabilities was viewed as discrimination. Before this act, it was assumed that challenges faced by people with disabilities, were inevitable consequences or mental limitations imposed by the disability itself.

Section 504 recognized that the inferior social and economic status of individual with disabilities was not a consequence of the disability itself, but rather a result of societal barriers and prejudices.

However,  Section 504 did not protect people with disabilities from discrimination by:

  • Employers
  • Public accommodations in the private sector
  • Publicly funded programs
  • Those providing federal financial assistance

It took the Americans with Disabilities Act to address these areas not covered by Section 504.

Disability Movement Continues in 1980s

In 1986, the National Council on Disability (NCD) recommended enactment of the ADA.

The NCD drafted the first version of the bill which was introduced in the House and Senate in 1988. Senator Tom Harkin, author and chief sponsor of the final bill, delivered part of his introduction speech in sign language, so that his deaf brother could understand.

Also, in 1988, the Fair Housing Act was amended to add two new classes, people with disabilities and families with children.

Disability Protection Becomes  Law  in 1990s

The American with Disabilities Act was signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H. W. Bush.

Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation to prohibit discrimination and guarantee individuals with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else in America.

To be protected by the act, an individual must have a disability, which is defined by the ADA as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
  • A person who has a history or record of such an impairment.
  • A person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.

The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.

Amendment To The ADA in 2000s

An amendment to the ADA, The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA), was enacted on September 25, 2008, and became effective on January 1, 2009.

This law made a number of significant changes to the definition of “disability.” The definition was expanded to include the following impairments which weren’t part of the original ADA law:

  • Epilepsy
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Major depression
  • Bipolar disorder

The Americans with Disabilities Act Celebrates 25 Years in 2015

On July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates its 25 year anniversary.

You too can be part of the celebration of this momentous milestone in American civil rights history. Learn how you can get involved in The ADA Legacy Project as they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.