By Saige Draeger
The sweeping legislation that is the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) became the cornerstone of anti-discrimination protections for people with disabilities, ushering in a new era of opportunity for a community left long waiting when it became law on July 26, 1990.
Thirty years later, the ADA's legacy continues, with the anniversary offering a chance to celebrate and reflect on the past, present, and future of disability protections and equality.
To commemorate the law's 30th anniversary, NCSL and its partners in the State Exchange on Employment and Disability (SEED), hosted a five-part virtual meeting series celebrating the landmark legislation and its legacy.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia kicked off the five-day virtual meeting with a special message celebrating the successes of the ADA and acknowledging the important role states play in carrying out the legislation’s mission of equal opportunity and access.
Following Scalia’s remarks, former Connecticut Senator Ted Kennedy Jr. shared his personal experience as a person with a disability and underscored the importance of the ADA stating, “The history of disability in the United States and around the world has been one of isolation and segregation, up until thirty years ago when this landmark civil rights legislation was passed.” Monday’s kick-off also featured conversations with Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Guzman and Illinois State Senator Dan McConchie, who spoke to what states are doing to uphold the promises of the ADA.
Building on the momentum of day-one, Washington Lieutenant. Governor Cyrus Habib welcomed attendees for the second day’s session on workplace accommodations. Habib, who lost his sight at age eight due to cancer, described his experience from “braille to Yale, to the state legislature,” and how the ADA increased employment opportunities and facilitated his transition from one role to the next.
Deputy Assistant Secretary Jennifer Sheehy of the U.S. Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), shared what the ADA means to her, as well as its impact on people with disabilities: “We are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the ADA and a lot has changed. What was, for many of us, about physical accessibility back in 1990, now is so much more. It’s really about accessibility in programs and services for all disabilities.”
Tuesday’s session also featured Emily Dickens from the Society for Human Resource Management, Texas Representative Garnet Coleman, and AT&T Director of Accessibility Aaron Bangor, who provided attendees with a deeper understanding of the past, present, and future of workplace accommodations.
Following the focusing on employment, attendees heard from experts, lawmakers, and agency officials on a wider array of topics related to the ADA. Wednesday’s session dove into the 45th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the challenges COVID-19 poses to students with disabilities as classes move online.
Transportation was the focus on Thursday, with a discussion surrounding accessibility issues people with disabilities face in securing reliable transit, as well as how the ADA shaped transportation access for people with disabilities.
Friday’s final session was a fascinating look into how the ADA transformed legislative chambers across the country, and how, despite many impressive renovation projects, concerns over legislature accessibility remain. Among the featured guests for these sessions were U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Tennessee Senator Becky Massey, Lindsay Jones from the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and Wendy Madsen from Wyoming’s Legislative Service Office.
To learn more, view the meeting's sessions in full on NCSL's ADA30 resource page and stay tuned as we continue our year-long celebration of the ADA.
Saige Draeger is a research analyst in NCSL's Employment, Labor and Retirement Program.