Our staff, affiliates, and friends around the region participated in a wide variety of events and activities surrounding the 25th anniversary of the ADA, from somber remembrances to sizzling celebrations.
Wings of Equality
2015: 25th ADA Anniversary
I think it was the hottest, or one of the hottest, days on the planet. Walking toward the White House, my feet sizzled when they hit the pavement, in part from the sweat running down my legs and in part from sidewalk temp. Never has a walk been so hard, so arduous. Finally there, it resembled my first NCIL conference in the vast diversity of disabilities represented, people using everything from straight canes to being pushed on hospital beds for mobility, sign language flying, people using oxygen masks, white canes and every kind and breed of service animal. An accessible port-a-pot trailer with running hot water. A jogging track that turned walking into a joyous bounce. Friends finding friends in the crowd. And amongst it all, servers in black tux vests and white gloves serving water and lemonade off silver trays.
The huge crowd swelled and then President George H.W. Bush signed “the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities.” Goose bumps.
Home, don't remember coming back, just floating on a high of civil rights, on wings of equality.
My ADA Story
2015: 25th ADA Anniversary
Until I left home and built my own life, my world was inaccessible. It was the late 40s and 50s and I was a cute (so they say), starry-eyed girl with cerebral palsy. I walked and talked “funny” (my words). When I was in first, second, and third grades, I attended a school for children with disabilities and remember wondering why I never saw my classmates outside of school. My parents had rejected any connection with disability groups after a newly formed disability association insisted that my condition was quite severe and I would never walk or think properly. Fortunately my parents pursued doctors who contradicted these assumptions. I was raised to function as “normally” as possible.
There was no opportunity to become comfortable with my own disability, let alone that of anybody else. In fourth grade I was mainstreamed and struggled to be accepted by my peers. I no longer associated with anyone, on a personal or friendship level, who had a disability. A family move to Puerto Rico, when I was 10, further isolated me and I grew up dreaming of a perfectly “normal” life even though I was constantly proving my worth to others.
Ralf Hotchkiss, a talented and extremely independent man who uses a wheelchair, appeared in a laundry mat, where I was washing my clothes, in the late 1970s. I was living in Washington, DC and was trying to make some sense out of my rebellious, hippie-strewn life. Through Ralf, who quickly befriended me, I joined the disability community. I found my own voice, met others who challenged my age-old assumptions, and I discovered I was smart. When the writings, arguments, and lobbying for the ADA began, I was ready to become involved.
I didn’t directly participate in the crafting of the ADA, but I knew many people who did. I attended meetings and heard testimony on the hill. I demonstrated with my friends and spoke my thoughts as they struggled to find the right language and figure out how to confront their opponents. I celebrated the victories.
What does the ADA mean to me? It doesn’t deflect from many able-bodied folks’ hesitations and stereotypes. They still exist, although there is much more acceptance of individuals such as myself. Physical access to almost anywhere I want to go, especially as I age, is easier.
In my work of managing an internship program for college undergraduates and graduates with disabilities, majoring in science and engineering, I know that these students, with a wide range of disabilities, now can enjoy full access to professional, cultural, intellectual, and social opportunities that many of us once just dreamed of. And … I think of my young and long-ago classmates with disabilities. They can finally come out to play.
ADA in Action Photo Contest Winners!
1st place: Bob Amelio
" ... performing an ADA site survey on a trail."
STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT CATEGORY
1st place: Renee Kirby
"Inclusion: The ultimate goal of the ADA"
2nd place: Renee Kirby
"Collegiate Wheelchair Basketball Team at Temple University in Philadelphia - 1993"
3rd place: Christina Bishop
"Kayla Woolridge takes aim! Paralympic Sport Club Southern Maryland and Sanner Lake Sportsman Club offer a day of shooting and archery for individuals with disabilities in St. Mary's County."
PUBLIC ACCOMMODATIONS CATEGORY
1st place: Joseph Krycia
"A ruck march 10K in Scranton Pennsylvania, with members (active duty and retired) of the armed forces at the Veterans Memorial Walk/Run, held in Scranton yearly."
2nd place: John William Mountjoy
"Coach Chris Sacco reacts to the marksmanship skills of Paralympian-Rifleman Dayton Webber at an event hosted by Sanner's Lake Sportsmen's Club, Lexington Park, Maryland. Webber cleared the range of targets in near-record time. Sanner's Lake Sportsmen's Club is a private club in southern Maryland that has partnered with the St. Mary's Count Recreation and Parks Department in becoming one of eight nationwide sponsors of Paralympics/Wounded-Warrior Marksmanship Programs."
1st place: Janetta Green
"Center for Independent Living of Central Pennsylvania agency picnic at Little Buffalo State Park, Newport, Pennsylvania."
2nd place: Donald Balcom
"My first running race as a VI athlete... running in the Hood to Coast Relay race with Wounded Warriors and guided by a local Maryland runner. I finished in the top 5 in my age group in each leg I ran."
3rd place: Donald Balcom
"Visually Impaired: 27-Oct-2013 Marine Corps Marathon - Washington, DC. Overall finish 196 / 23380 in only my second marathon."
Thanks to all who entered our photo contest and shared such wonderful, creative, truly remarkable photos, and congratulations to our winners!
From ADA in Focus: Spring-Summer 2015:
from Marian Vessels, Director, Mid-Atlantic ADA Center
Twenty-five years! It hardly seems that long ago that President George H.W. Bush proclaimed that “we must remove the physical barriers we have created and the social barriers that we have accepted” as he signed the ADA into law.
After much debate, negotiation, and compromise, the ADA had been passed overwhelmingly by both houses of Congress. People with disabilities were nearly giddy with excitement and a sense of promise. There was a swell of public approval.
Still, many of us had experienced firsthand those barriers the President talked about – we knew they were high and strong and deep. They would not simply be erased with the flourish of a pen, like a sand castle washed away by a wave. Removing those barriers would take hard work, determination, and time.
We have chipped away at those barriers, bit by bit. People with disabilities have led the way, and government agencies and organizations like ours have provided guidance. Architects have come up with clever designs, and program planners have developed creative approaches to inclusion. Businesses have tapped into a burgeoning market, and employers have realized the benefits of workplace accommodations that enable workers with disabilities to succeed and excel. And the social barriers continue to crumble as people with and without disabilities have opportunities to work and play side by side.
Now with this milestone anniversary, the ADA is again front page news! Let us seize this opportunity, not only to remember and recognize how far we’ve come, but to renew and revitalize our commitment to achieve the full promise of the ADA. Challenges remain; let us rise to meet them. As President Bush so eloquently said on that sunny day 25 years ago:
“Our problems are large, but our unified heart is larger. Our challenges are great, but our will is greater. And in our America, the most generous, optimistic nation on the face of the Earth, we must not and will not rest until every man and woman with a dream has the means to achieve it.”
Focal Point: The ADA at 25
Twenty-five years ago, on a sunny July day in our nation’s capital, thousands of people gathered together to witness an historic moment in the history of the world – the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This year, as we mark this momentous event, we reflect on all that went before – the hard work and collaboration that led to the passage of the law – and all that has followed. Our nation has continued to work, collaborate, debate, and sometimes struggle to implement this challenging law.
Why is it challenging? Certainly the concept at its core – equality of opportunity – is simple enough, yet we have struggled throughout our history to make that concept a reality for groups with more easily defined traits (race, religion, gender). What does equality of opportunity really mean, though, when it comes to people with disabilities? Or, for that matter, who are people with disabilities? Each individual in the world is unique, with strengths and weaknesses, gifts and limitations, so what is disability? Our challenge begins.
ADA in the Courts: Protection
Congress adopted and expanded the definition of disability from the Rehabilitation Act, outlining what have become known as “the three prongs.” People with disabilities include:
People who have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity,
People who have a record of such an impairment, or
People who are regarded as having such an impairment.
Although definitions were also provided for many of the related terms (impairment, substantially limits, major life activity) arguments began to swirl around these issues almost as soon as the ADA took effect.
One of the first ADA cases to find its way to the Supreme Court was Bragdon v Abbott (1998). A dentist, Dr. Bragdon, refused to fill a cavity in his office for a patient who was infected with HIV. One of the central issues raised by the case was whether a person whose HIV “had not progressed to the so-called symptomatic phase” could be considered to have a disability. The court made several significant statements, ruling that an individual with HIV, “[f]rom the moment of infection,” could be substantially limited in reproduction, an activity the court described as “central to the life process itself.”
Despite this expansive interpretation, the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of the ADA’s protections with subsequent decisions. Ruling in 1999 in three separate cases which became known as the “Sutton trilogy” (from Sutton v United Airlines) the court found that the ADA’s definition of disability should take into consideration any corrective devices, medication, adaptive behaviors, or other mitigating measures that people used to help alleviate the effects of their impairments. For example, people often would not meet the definition’s threshold if they took medication that reduced or eliminated the effects of conditions like diabetes, epilepsy, or schizophrenia; if these people were discriminated against because they had these conditions, they had no recourse.
Congress took back the reins in 2008 by passing the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). Finding, among other things, that “the holdings of the Supreme Court in Sutton v. United Air Lines … have narrowed the broad scope of protection intended … eliminating protection for many individuals whom Congress intended to protect,” Congress said disability should be determined without considering the positive effects of medications, assistive devices, or other mitigating measures; the “primary object of attention” should be discrimination.
ADA in the Courts: Coverage
While many defendants argued about who should be protected by the definition of disability, others argued about the extent of coverage. The state of Pennsylvania argued (Pennsylvania Department of Corrections v Yeskey) that Title II of the ADA should not be interpreted to apply to state prisons. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the state’s arguments and held that the law “unmistakably” covers prisons and all the programs they conduct.
Several states argued that Congress lacked the authority to override states’ immunity with the broad application of Title II. The Supreme Court’s rulings in several cases parsed the application of Title II and the availability of remedies and damages to individuals with disabilities.
The court generally ruled that the application of Title II was valid where Constitutional rights were implicated, as in Tennessee v Lane (2004), a case that raised the issue of physical access to courthouses. The court ruled that access to courts is a “fundamental right” and therefore individuals with disabilities can sue states for damages when that right is violated.
Again in 2006, in the case of United States (Goodman) v Georgia, the court held that an individual can sue for money damages when a state’s discriminatory actions violate the Constitution, which guarantees due process and equal protection under the law. This case arose when an inmate of Georgia’s prison system claimed that he was kept for 23 to 24 hours a day in a cell in which he could not turn around in his wheelchair, was unable to use the toilet or bathing facilities safely and independently, and was denied assistance, medical treatment, and access to virtually all of the prison system’s programs and services. The Court noted that the inmate alleged at least some actions that violated his Constitutional rights.
However, in the case of the University of Alabama v. Garrett (2001), the Supreme Court held that Congress did exceed its authority when it created the potential for individuals to obtain monetary damages from states which violate the employment provisions of the ADA. The Court found insufficient evidence of Constitutional violations by states in relation to employment practices.
Rulemaking and Enforcement
The federal regulatory agencies have not been idle, either. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Justice (DOJ), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and other agencies have worked to update rules, issue interpretive guidance, investigate complaints, and enforce the provisions of the law.
The EEOC has issued a wealth of guidance material and engaged in extensive enforcement activity, processing more than 390,000 complaints and obtaining a variety of relief for aggrieved workers, including $1,290,000,000 in monetary benefits.
The DOT has amended its ADA regulations to address or clarify a variety of issues, including the accessibility of transit stations, bus stops, vehicles, and rail cars, as well as operational issues such as the use of wheelchair lifts on buses and the management of complementary paratransit services. They have conducted dozens of compliance reviews of fixed route and complementary paratransit systems across the country, working with operators to improve services for riders with disabilities.
The DOJ issued new regulations in 2010 to update and expand provisions for state and local government agencies and private businesses, including adopting new design and construction standards for buildings and facilities. The Department’s far-reaching enforcement activities include focused efforts, such as the Olmstead project promoting community integration, the Barrier-Free Health Care Initiative, and Project Civic Access, which has resulted in more than 200 settlement agreements to improve access in towns, cities, and counties around the country.
The FCC has worked to ensure that telecommunications relay services keep pace with technological advancements and continue to enable individuals with disabilities to effectively access the telecommunications network.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Federal research and rulemaking continue to address emerging issues. The U.S. Access Board is working on formulating or updating guidelines for accessible passenger vessels, buses and vans, rail vehicles, public streets and sidewalks, and medical diagnostic equipment.
ADA regulatory agencies continue rulemaking and enforcement efforts to expand or clarify the application and implementation of the law. The EEOC has recently proposed to amend their rules to address employer-sponsored wellness programs. The DOJ has begun rulemaking to address captioning and audio-description in movie theaters, web-based information and services, and equipment and furniture such as medical and exercise equipment, accessible golf cars, portable ATMs and point of sale (POS) devices, and beds in hotels, hospitals and nursing homes.
Perhaps in another 25 years we will look back on a whole new series of developments and achievements that have advanced accessibility, opportunity, and inclusion. But this year we celebrate how far we’ve come. We salute those who refused to be marginalized, excluded, and dispossessed, and those who stood with them. We thank those who challenged us to give meaning to our words, to breathe life into our pledge that there is liberty and justice for all in America.