This blog was written by Erin Hawley, Communications Consultant for the National Aging & Disability Transportation Center.
On July 26th 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, which gave legal protections for equality and inclusion to people with disabilities. Leading up to the passage, activists from all over the country protested for this right; most notable was the “Capital Crawl” in March of that year, where dozens of activists from ADAPT (Americans Disabled for Accessible Public Transit) climbed or crawled the steps of the Capitol building in Washington, DC, either leaving their mobility aids at the base, or crawling with the assistance of others. This protest heightened visibility for the struggle people with disabilities faced in everyday life and was cheered on by those who witnessed it. This direct action paid off, helping the bill get through the House of Representatives, where it sat untouched for over a year, and it was signed into law that summer.
The ADA addresses the inequalities that face people with disabilities in society, providing access to mainstream education, workplace accommodations, public accommodations, telecommunications, and state or government entities. It also affords access to public transportation, including buses, trains, subways, taxis, and paratransit. Before the ADA, folks would often have to abandon their mobility aids to use public transit, or travel with a companion that could access route information for them. The ADA gave more independence to travelers with disabilities, ensuring wheelchair lifts on buses, ramps to clear the gap on subways, adequate time to board, the ability to use service animals in transit, and accessible route information both at public stations and online. Transit facilities must also be ADA compliant, including clear pathways, curb cuts, signage, and elevators or ramps.
Thanks to the ADA, we have regulations that require complementary paratransit services for trips with origins and destinations within 3/4 of a mile of a route/station for eligible customers with disabilities. After an eligibility process, paratransit is provided for people with disabilities and older adults who cannot otherwise access public transit in their community. There are no restrictions on trip purposes or number of trips, and there is no waiting list for access to the service.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act is for legal protections and access for people with disabilities, the law benefits everyone. With access to transportation, more people with disabilities can enter the workforce, lending their skills and abilities to companies and organizations. Transportation also allows people to attend entertainment venues, trips to the park, and get-togethers with friends and families. The ADA is about equality, but, more importantly, it is about inclusion. Before the ADA, people with disabilities were often home-bound, unable to participate fully in society. While the ADA did not erase discrimination, it still offers support and hope for those seeking to make our communities accessible and usable for people with disabilities by providing equal opportunity and justice.
This Sunday, July 26th, we celebrate the ADA’s 30th anniversary, and there are numerous events and hashtags to commemorate the event. The ADA National Network is calling for people to share “a moment in their lives when they are thankful for the ADA” and tag it on social media using #ThanksToTheADA. You can take a picture or post a video of an accessible bus, talk about your experience with accessibility, or any content you think would showcase the importance of the ADA. On July 30th, the U.S. Department of Transportation is hosting an online event titled “Breaking Down Barriers,” which will “bring together leaders across the government to acknowledge accomplishments in transportation that have resulted from this landmark civil rights legislation.” This ceremony will feature the U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, DOT’s Modal Administrators, and more. You can register for the event on Transportation website.