The true power and promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lies in its ability to empower individuals with disabilities to dream bigger, and to enable them to pursue their own visions of the American dream. So writes the Department of Justice in a comprehensive summary of the civil rights Act after 25 years of it’s passage.
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. “This is an immensely important day,” he began in his speech on the day of the signing, “so many dedicated organizations for people with disabilities, who gave their time and their strength; and perhaps most of all, everyone out there and others — across the breadth of this nation are 43 million Americans with disabilities. You have made this happen…With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
The president continued, “This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities — the first. Its passage has made the United States the international leader on this human rights issue…This act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream. Legally, it will provide our disabled community with a powerful expansion of protections and then basic civil rights. It will guarantee fair and just access to the fruits of American life which we all must be able to enjoy. And then, specifically, first the ADA ensures that employers covered by the act cannot discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. Second, the ADA ensures access to public accommodations such as restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, and offices. And third, the ADA ensures expanded access to transportation services. And fourth, the ADA ensures equivalent telephone services for people with speech or hearing impediments.”
The DOJ’s summary reminds Americans of that historic day:
Twenty-five years ago, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), our nation committed itself to the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities. As the momentous 25th anniversary year of the ADA draws to a close, the Department of Justice reflected on what this seminal civil rights law means to people with disabilities, acknowledging the progress the department has helped to make possible and looking forward to the work ahead.
“By prohibiting discrimination and ensuring opportunity, the ADA has opened doors and brought dreams within reach,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch recently stated.
The Department of Justice is proud to stand with individuals with disabilities to ensure that the ADA’s promise becomes a reality. The department will continue to use the broad array of tools at its disposal – including technical assistance, regulation development, mediation, investigation, litigation and statements of interest – to aggressively pursue the goals of the ADA.
Over this anniversary year, the Department of Justice has worked diligently to advance the four goals set forth in the ADA – equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities – in a wide variety of contexts, including civic access, employment, education, integration, health care and recreation.
For example, through our technical assistance on the rights of parents with disabilities, the Justice Department made clear that people with disabilities are entitled to an equal opportunity to form families, become parents and raise their children without interference based on outdated stereotypes and incorrect assumptions about their abilities to parent. And the department has continued to work to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunity to access quality education, including educational opportunities that are available online and educational opportunities in integrated settings alongside their non-disabled peers.
The Department of Justice has fought for the rights of children like Brahm and Jayla to fully participate in all of the activities that make up a quintessential American childhood, such as going to the playground, playing sports and going to summer camp. The department has also advanced the rights of individuals with disabilities to fully participate in the most fundamental civic activity – voting.
As Accessology has pointed out, the Department of Justice has been relentlessly reviewing public as well as private entities to verify their compliance with the 25 year-old civil rights law under an initiative they have dubbed Project Civil Access (PCA). A search of the PCA website reveals that the Department of Justice has increased its litigation over the past few years substantially against Title II entities. Settlements reached by the DOJ with the various entities have increased 50% since 2012 and 36% since 2013.
“Compliance review sites are chosen based upon the desire of the DOJ to visit every state, the population of the site, and, in some cases, its proximity to a university or tourist attraction,” noted Accessology president and CEO, Kristi Avalos who has been involved in accessibility issues for 35 years.
“The majority of the compliance reviews occurred in small cities and towns because they represent the most common form of local government,” she stated.
Continuing with the Department of Justice:
Through our 218 Project Civic Access agreements, including 15 new agreements this year alone, the Justice Department helps to ensure that people with disabilities are able to participate fully and independently in community life. We also advance the goal of independent living through our Olmstead enforcement work, which helps people with disabilities have the opportunity to live and work in integrated settings in their communities and remains a high priority for the department.
Finally, we are furthering the goal of economic self-sufficiency by making clear that state and local government employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities. In 2015, the Department of Justice entered into numerous settlement agreements and consent decrees obtaining relief for people with disabilities like Mr. Gomillia, who was fired from his job as a correctional officer after he disclosed that he used to have diabetes. In addition to resolving individual complaints of employment discrimination, the department has entered into several agreements with public entities requiring them to revise their job applications and employment websites to ensure that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to compete for government jobs.
Though our country has certainly come a long way towards achieving equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities over the 25 years since the ADA was enacted, the department recognizes that our work is not yet done. As the head of the Civil Rights Division, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, clearly stated in her remarks on the ADA’s anniversary, “We will not stop until every child with a disability can dream the same dreams as children without disabilities – and follow those dreams to reality. Until every person with a disability can pursue a life of work, family, community and civic participation. And until the dignity and value of every person is recognized without question.” The department will not rest until, to paraphrase President George H.W. Bush’s powerful words at the ADA signing ceremony, every last shameful wall of exclusion for persons with disabilities finally comes tumbling down.
(NOTE: If you would like assistance reviewing your compliance under the ADA, or need consultation on accessibility related issues, contact Accessology at 972-434-0068 or visit the website here http://accessology.com/ )