NEW YORK – Advocates for people with disabilities are both celebrating a landmark in the fight for civil rights and still waiting for its promise to be fully realized.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law 30 years ago, on July 26, 1990. It was the world’s first declaration of equality for people with disabilities.
And Susan Dooha, executive director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, says it opened new doors for people with disabilities in transportation, housing accessibility, employment, education and public accommodations.
“People can do so many things that they hadn’t been able to do before,” says Dooha. “And now we have a whole new generation that has grown up with these protections in place.”
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But she adds that there is still a long way to go to achieve equality, especially in access to transportation and employment.
Dooha notes that despite the protections enumerated in the law and years of litigation over its implementation, people with disabilities still face widespread discrimination.
“In New York state, the employment rate for people with disabilities hovers around 30%,” says Dooha. “And that’s not because people are not able to work. It is because they cannot get hired.”
She says the loss of jobs due to the COVID pandemic also came earlier and has been deeper for people with disabilities nationwide.
Dooha says actions still are needed to implement the law. Plans with timetables must be put in place, and people with disabilities must be brought to the table to ensure that the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act becomes a reality.
“Removing the barriers that have resulted in the impoverishment of people with disabilities,” says Dooha, “and the enormous stigma and exclusion that people with disabilities still experience.”