Perspectives

Advancing Equal Access: The History of the American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

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On July 26, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) will celebrate its 25th anniversary. The ADA, a civil rights law established in 1990, prevents discrimination against people with mental and physical disabilities in employment, transportation, accessibility accommodations, government programs and services, and other areas.

The history of the ADA starts in 1986, when the National Council on Disability first recommended the enactment of the ADA. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa introduced the first version of the bill to the House and Senate in 1988. Harkin was chief sponsor of the final bill in the Senate. Interestingly, part of Harkin’s introduction speech was in sign language, so that his brother, who was deaf, could understand.

In the months before the ADA was enacted, opposition from businesses and delays by the House caused a standstill on the passing of the bill. To push things along, dozens of protestors with disabilities crawled up the Capitol steps in Washington, D.C. in what is now known as the infamous “Capitol Crawl.” Protestors left their wheelchairs and assistive devices behind and climbed the steps in a demonstration to illicit urgency. President George H.W. Bush eventually signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.

His son, President George W. Bush, signed the ADA Amendment Act of 2008 into law. The amendment widened the definition of “disability,” broadened coverage to people with disabilities, and defined more examples of “major life activities” that are limited by disability. The amendment also overturned multiple court decisions and was the last significant change to the ADA.

The Ohio University Presidential Advisory Council on Disability and Accessibility Planning will celebrate the upcoming anniversary with more information to come. In the mean time, you can commit to another 25 years of the ADA by signing and sharing the PLEDGE ON! to the ADA