The ADA Legacy Project
This July marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as I learned in a recent article appearing in OT Practice Magazine. The story was written by Andrew Wait and discussed the impressive ADA Legacy Bus Tour that is traveling the country bringing attention to the milestone and its ongoing impact promoting equal opportunity for those with disabilities. The large campaign style bus has a decidedly political feel, with a large draped flag and the “Road to Freedom” emblazoned across the side. The bus was brought to the latest AOTA convention through the work of OT’s Robin Jones and Sandy Hanebrink. Parked outside the AOTA convention hall in Nashville, the bus contained historical documents, photographs, and a detailed account of the struggle involved in getting the law passed.
At first glance it seemed odd that the bus looked like a campaign for something that seems so universally accepted, but in reality the law took an enormous amount of political will to get passed. Various business and religious groups were quite vocal in opposition, while organizations like the AOTA were at the forefront of the movement to expand opportunity and end discriminatory practices. Signed into law by George H.W Bush in 1990, the ADA allowed therapists to formulate better plans integrating patients into society. Improving access to employment, public transportation, and telecommunications, the ADA continues to provide the basis for equal access and opportunity for millions of Americans.
In response to a few adverse Supreme Court rulings, the law was amended in 2008 to broaden and clarify the scope of disability protections. With a rapidly changing society, it is incumbent on all of us to be aware of new challenges facing those with disabilities and recognize the valuable role that therapy plays in facilitating change. Despite progress, there is evidence that significant barriers exist in the medical field with relation to accessible facilities, accommodations, and functional equipment. As a profession with the motto of “living life to the fullest”, it is encouraging to see the AOTA put such a high priority on disability culture. AOTA Executive director Fred Somers summed it up well,
“Because occupational therapy practitioners help clients access their communities, they have the unique perspective of seeing the on-the-ground impact of the ADA. It’s amazing to think of how far we’ve come in just 25 years, and I believe our profession has played a critical role in helping to reframe attitudes towards disability.”
Almost 20% of our current population reports a disability, with half of those cases qualifying as severe. Although great progress has been made, those with disabilities continue to lag far behind the general population in quality of life measurements, including employment statistics. This 25th anniversary should be trumpeted everywhere as an example of how coordinated and courageous social justice movements can transform society. It should also be a reminder that there is more work to be done and that we can all be a part of this legacy project as we make progress. Until next time…