President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act 30 years ago. This landmark legislation provided people with disabilities across the United States more opportunities.
As people celebrate the act’s effects, we also look at changes people with disabilities need.
“The ADA has done so much to bring attention and awareness to disability; however, attention and awareness are not enough. Greater access to buildings and transportation has been life changing for some, but these have not been universal and are not the end of the accessibility discussion,” said Dr. Nick Winges-Yanez, an adjunct assistant professor at the Texas Center for Disability Studies through the Steve Hicks School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin
“With the passage of the ADA, our nation committed itself to a clear and comprehensive mandate: the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities,” said Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband.
Barriers to equal opportunities have improved, but there is more work to do. Although the intent of the act was to ensure equal employment opportunities and access to polling places and nondiscriminatory health care, more can be done for people with disabilities.
Technology access is one area for improvement. In recent years, technology has created connectivity, but a digital divide exists for those with disabilities.
“The touch area of a screen is too small for those with limited hand dexterity, so it’s easy to click on the wrong link but difficult to enter passwords. This also has an impact on those with a visual impairment, such as myself, because of difficulty enlarging text or navigating audio description features,” wrote Caroline Casey, activist and founder of the Valuable 500, which works to put disability on businesses’ agendas. Casey wrote an opinion piece about the ADA anniversary for NBC.
People with a visual impairment may find it challenging to navigate text on a computer screen without access to a tool to enlarge text or the option for audio descriptions or a narration feature.
Across the country, we continue to advocate for accessible polling stations, Winges-Yanez said on Tuesday. Winges-Yanez has a sister with an intellectual disability.
“Disabled people languish in institutions while others live with the fear that they may be institutionalized because community supports are vastly underfunded and direct support professionals are underpaid,” she said.
Winges-Yanez says job discrimination continues in spite of the law, and some disabled folks are paid subminimum wage.
Data from the Case for Inclusion 2020 study shows that even when people with disabilities have the opportunity to work, it is often in jobs that offer few hours, pay below the minimum wage or fail to provide a clear career pathway.
Other areas still have barriers to work through, and more funding is needed. Winges-Yanez said special education continues to face equity challenges.
“University students continue to face discrimination and funding for supports remains low,” she said.
If someone is looking for disability services, the Texas waitlist for waiver services is one of the longest in the country, Winges-Yanez said.
“With many people left in isolation and with no supports, most people with IDD labels live with aging parents. With lack of accessible transportation and housing, the future is scary,” she said.
When it comes to living a quality life the study says, “ too often, providers lack the investments from federal and state governments to deliver the quality of support that people deserve to the number of people for whom access to that support makes the difference between living in a state-run institution or living a fully inclusive life.”
Finally, our words matter, Winges-Yanez said.
“Society relies on euphemisms to speak about disability, using phrases such as ‘differences,’ ‘special needs,’ and ‘differently abled’ without critically analyzing that this increases stigma and continues to marginalize disabled folks so that nondisabled folks feel more comfortable.”
In honor of the ADA’s 30th anniversary, the Houston Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities, in collaboration with the Houston Center for Independent Living, the Southwest ADA Center, TIRR Memorial Hermann and Jewish Family Service, presented a special program with music selections and reflections of the history, activism and collective action that led to that pivotal moment for disability justice. You can watch it here.
Keynote speaker Lex Frieden, a well-known educator, researcher and disability policy expert, spoke about Houston’s passion for building a more accessible and more inclusive city.