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Detroit News - Disabilities Blog
By Richard Bernstein
July 26, 2010
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 19 percent of Americans (or about 54 million) have a legally qualifying disability. Despite being a significant minority, prior to 1990, a comprehensive statement and recognition of the rights of the disabled for equal participation in our society did not exist.
A disability can affect any of us at any time - young, old, rich, poor - regardless of our station in life. America's core values have always remained focused on being a land of inclusion with the promise of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all, though not without struggle.
Reflecting on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I think about it as a testament to the fact that change really does happen, and in the most incredible and profound ways.
The passage of the ADA on July 26, 1990, was the long-awaited gateway to access of the American Dream for people with disabilities. This legislation, distinctly American, revolutionized and transformed the lives of all people all over the country for the better.
The ADA opened once blocked pathways to education, employment, transportation, and socialization and made people with disabilities relevant, rather than outcasts. With the advent of the ADA, we now have a clear blueprint guiding the way for people with disabilities to be equal participants in society and realize our full potential.
With the power of the pen, the law finally stated that people with disabilities have the right to go to school, get a job, travel on an airplane and otherwise experience life to the fullest. Without the ADA, how would people with disabilities live in an apartment, use Detroit public transportation, go to the store, watch a football game at the University of Michigan's Big House or safely cross the street?
The ADA sets clear, unambiguous guidelines for engineering and human resources, with no bias, to level the playing field to make access to life's experiences equal for everyone. It spells out what to do to give everyone equal access.
Critics may argue that the ADA gives people with disabilities special treatment. I say, we are not asking for anything special, just access to what everyone else has. Consider this: If anything ever happens to you and your abilities were suddenly taken away from you, you would be happy to know this law protects you, too.
So on the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, we are encouraged by the progress made in providing equal opportunity and changing negative perceptions and stereotypes. We have come far in just 20 years, but there is still more work to be done.
Though physical access has improved by leaps and bounds, the biggest challenges still faced by people with disabilities are psychological and social. I'm confident, though, that as we continue breaking down these physical barriers with diligence and improving technology, America can be the beacon to the rest of the world for access and equal opportunity, embodied by the ADA.
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