I was 18 and just a few days from starting my first year of college when I dove from our family’s cabin cruiser into shallow water and broke my neck. I became paralyzed from the chest down and in that instant my life and the lives of my family changed forever. It was 10 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act and after spending nearly 7 months in a rehab hospital, I quickly realized the world was not built for people like me. I got involved with organizations such as Access Wilmington at the city level, then worked with elected officials at the state level, and eventually at a Federal level, and then on the international stage to help foster an inclusive and more accessible world for all.
It took years to get passed, but thanks to the work and perseverance of people like friend and mentor, former Congressman Tony Coelho, the Americans with Disabilities Act – a landmark civil rights law – was enacted in 1990 in the United States. It aims to protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination and ensure equal access to employment opportunities, public accommodations, transportation, and other aspects of daily life. While the ADA has brought about significant improvements in accessibility and inclusivity, some argue that there are still areas where it falls short or needs updating.
Here are a few reasons why people may call for amendments to the ADA:
Evolving understanding of disabilities
Over time, society’s understanding of disabilities and their impact on individuals has evolved. Thankfully, there is a growing recognition that disabilities can be diverse and include not only physical impairments but also mental health conditions, neurodiversity, and chronic illnesses. Some argue that the ADA should be expanded to reflect this broader understanding and cover a wider range of disabilities.
Advances in technology
Technology has advanced significantly since the ADA was enacted. With the rise of the internet, digital platforms, and mobile applications, there are new accessibility challenges and opportunities. The ADA needs to address digital accessibility requirements to ensure that individuals with disabilities can fully participate in the digital age.
Despite the ADA’s provisions prohibiting employment discrimination, individuals with disabilities still face challenges in accessing and retaining employment. Additional measures are needed to improve workplace accommodations, increase employment opportunities, and address issues such as wage disparities.
Accessibility in public spaces
While the ADA has brought about improvements in accessibility in public accommodations, there are still gaps in many areas. There must be stronger enforcement mechanisms, clearer guidelines, and updated accessibility standards to ensure that individuals with disabilities can fully access public spaces, transportation, and facilities.
Intersectionality and social inclusion
Disability intersects with other aspects of a person’s identity, such as race, gender, and socio-economic status. Perhaps the ADA should consider these intersecting identities and address the unique challenges faced by individuals who belong to marginalized groups within the disability community.
I fully realize and respect that perspectives on amending the ADA can vary among individuals and advocacy groups. Some want specific changes, while others may emphasize different priorities or approaches. Then there’s the entire issue of getting our elected officials to give the ADA the attention it needs with everything going on in Washington to even consider helpful and necessary amendments. Ultimately, any amendments to the ADA would require careful consideration of various viewpoints and the impact on individuals with disabilities and society as a whole. Time will tell but in my opinion, amending the ADA is long overdue!