Lorna’s briefest history of the ADA

Curb Cut At Night (Luke Keller ©2019)
Curb Cut At Night (Luke Keller ©2019)
As an MSer, I feel like I’m kinda late to the party with regards to understanding how important the ADA is. I was diagnosed in 1991 but didn’t really experience physical disability until later in my life.
 
Why I care
 
The NMSS says “The ADA covers almost everyone with MS — not only people who use wheelchairs. It covers every person with an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
 
How lucky am I to be living in this era? I take my electric wheelchair for coffee, I do all my banking online, I am able to work from home as a reasonable accommodation, and I write my blog with voice-to-text dictation.
 
mini-lift
Mini-Lift (Luke Keller ©2019)
In fact, in his book, Enabling Acts (see full site below), Lennard Davis says “Today we routinely see kneeling buses and buses with wheelchair lifts as a part of the urban landscape. It is an aspect of the success of the ADA that many of its accomplishments are now invisible to us since they are so much a part of our lives.” (Emphasis mine)
 
How it came about
 
For example, one city might mandate a reserved parking space close to the entrance of stores. But it wasn’t a federally mandated law, no comprehensive legislation. It was a catch-as-catch-can basically wherever needed.
Pool Lift (Luke Keller ©2019)
Pool Lift (Luke Keller ©2019)
 
Before the ADA, lawmakers were passing little laws here and there to correct disparate problems that suddenly (to them) popped up.
 
Then in the 1960s, civil rights for disenfranchised groups seemed to culminate in the Civil  Rights Act of 1964. And while in the immediate aftermath, the feeling among lawmakers was that trying for disability civil rights then was way over-reaching, the seed was planted.
 
Then in the 1960s, civil rights for disenfranchised groups seemed to culminate in the Civil  Rights Act of 1964. And while in the immediate aftermath, the feeling among lawmakers was that trying for disability civil rights then was way over-reaching, the seed was planted.
 
According to Davis, the initial idea behind the ADA was sparked by language slipped into what would become the Rehabilitation Act of 1972 for soldiers who were wounded in Vietnam. It said “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States, as defined in Section 7(6), shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” After many pushes, it was (reluctantly) signed by Nixon in 1973.
Bus driver lowering ramp (Luke Keller ©2019)
Bus driver lowering ramp (Luke Keller ©2019)
 
Next, after 20 years, and presumably once we had become used to the idea (sigh), the non-partisan National Council on Disability drafted the first version of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There was more political back and forth, but finally it was signed into law by Pres. George H.W. Bush in 1990. Then further amended and signed by Pres. (Bill) Clinton in 2009. Phew!
 
We made this
 
Some people are convinced that programs as monumental as the ADA will never again pass in our divided and hostile government. I hope that is not the case. As a collective, we Americans have shown the we can come up with all manner of clever solutions. 
 
Reading about the ADA made me realize how impactful it can be when the two parties of Congress work together to produce something for our common good. And it’s not perfect, but it makes space to let the creativity of society continue to reinvent how things could be made easier and more useful. 
 
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