Sunday, July 26, 2015, marked the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and my local paper made a big deal out of it with a whopping two op-ed columns. Both extolled the virtues of the Act, of which there are many, and exclaimed over the progress made since 1990, when it was signed into law. They also each contained the obligatory “there’s still more to be done” sentiment, on which I would have like to have seen more emphasis.
You know, because I’m bitter.
No one – least of all me – is arguing that the ADA was a huge step forward in the area of Disabled Civil Rights. I was 9 when it was enacted, so thankfully I missed most of the injustices inflicted upon people with disabilities prior to that day. It also helped that I have parents who weren’t going to let me be discriminated against because of a simple genetic mutation.
The reason I feel that more emphasis should be given to what has yet to be accomplished than what already has is because so many people are convinced that the ADA eliminated all barriers and difficulties facing people with disabilities. Go to any public establishment that has the bare minimum requirements to be ADA compliant. Register a complaint that it is not as accessible as it could or should be, you will inevitably hear, “It complies with the law,” or a variation thereof.
Never mind that the ADA was created by people who are not disabled, with only (I’m guessing) token input from people who are. Never mind that the law and the compliance thereto is not monitored nor enforced by people with disabilities. Never mind that the people to whom the ADA is directed (ie, business owners and the like) often don’t see the point, or feel that complying is more of an imposition than a tool to help their business.
I had a boss once who really couldn’t be bothered by the need to make our workplace more accessible. When I gave my notice, her first act was to call the contractor she had hired to cancel the curb cut scheduled to go in at the new location. Clearly she never intended to hire another person with a disability ever again.
That is one thing the law cannot change: attitude. Whether it is an attitude of inconvenience, or the increasingly narcissistic mindset of “It won’t happen to me,” no one can litigate society into thinking differently. Believe me, if there was any precedent for success, I would have tried it already.
The truth of the situation of disability rights is best expressed in one of the two op-eds, by Ann Fox, a Davidson College English professor:
Disability rights are in all our interest. We all live in changeable bodies, and will all become disabled if we live long enough.