The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law July 26, 1990. It prohibits the discrimination of people with disabilities in healthcare, voting, businesses, community events, criminal justice, technology, school, work, etc. I am one year older than the ADA. In my lifetime, I’ve seen many improvements to technologies, practices, and research on assisting individuals with disabilities and understanding their capabilities, but the ADA has remained the same. So, is this law enough?
Did you know that even with these rights, many disabled people struggle to make the decision to get married due to laws around the issue of combined incomes? Disabled parents run the risk of losing their children if they disclose their diagnoses to the wrong person, as they could be deemed unfit to parent due to assumptions about their disability. Many have limits on their earned income due to the potential of losing crucial benefits. You see, even if you made enough money to survive without government benefits, often support services are only accessible through government funding. Each state is different, of course, but that’s the case for many. Even the things the ADA does protect are often outdated.
If your business or event is just meeting ADA, you’re fulfilling a legal obligation. At AWS Foundation, we set a precedent to prioritize projects that go beyond what is required by law. A key criticism is that the ADA does not address many needs of individuals with disabilities. New buildings (or upgrades on old ones) must have wheelchair accessibility, but tables and desks are often too low for a power wheelchair user. Ramps are great, but can a wheelchair user access all parts of your space (including being able to work there)? Is a blind person able to access an accurate menu on your website that is accessible to their screen reader? Would the volume of the music in your business be overwhelming for someone with a sensory sensitivity (concerts excluded, obviously)?
No matter the scenario, you will find that the ADA covers some important aspects of disability life, but not everything.
What can be done? There isn’t just one answer. We need to create a ripple effect to enact change that will last. Be mindful of issues that affect disabled people and vote for local, state, and federal leaders with the interests of those constituents at the forefront of their work. Encourage city planning and business practices that implement Universal Design (see Joni’s article) over standard ADA. If you are a business owner, leader, or decision maker, consider how Universal Design elements benefit all customers, not just ones with disabilities. Most importantly, listen to people with disabilities and work on understanding their needs. Simple actions can make a significant impact for everyone.