Happy Birthday ADA!

By Brandon Smith

This month marks the 28th anniversary of the signing of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). This law protects individuals with disabilities from being discriminated against because of their disability. Under the law, a person cannot be denied access to employment because of their disability status.

The law also requires corporations and government entities to make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities to entertainment, information, and any other public services.

What does this law mean to me as a visually impaired person? Simply, equal access. Because of the ADA, I feel that many doors of accessibility have been opened for those who are disabled.

While the law is no magic bullet, just knowing that it exists is a comfort. Even with the ADA in place, there are many more battles to win. The internet still has far too many inaccessible websites. There are still a great number of books that are inaccessible because of the scanning process that was used. Even the Library of Congress has archival material that is totally inaccessible.

There are also parts of the law that I am conflicted about. Should a private home, even when being used as a public purpose, be required to follow the ADA’s regulations? For example, in a previous blog, I wrote about a couple who didn’t allow service animals in their training facility. Their training facility was their residence. Is it right to force someone who is using their home as a business to permit guide dogs if they feel uncomfortable with animals being in their personal space?

I also don’t feel that the ADA should be used as a hammer. Unfortunately, there are individuals and organizations that find it necessary to sue someone for the slightest upset to their lives. This can be more harmful than helpful in many ways. One way being that it can give the impression that people with disabilities are nothing more than attention-seeking disrupters. This is already enough of a problem. There have been instances in the past where a business has expressed concern with allowing disabled people to take advantage of their services for fear of someone getting hurt and the business facing a lawsuit. Let’s not enhance the impression of disabled people as victims, ready to call in the lawyers at the first sign of trouble. Rather, we should use the ADA as it was intended, which is to address and correct the most major of grievances.

This month, let’s celebrate the ADA and its successes, but also recognize there are still many more bridges to cross when it comes to achieving equal access.