32 Years with the Americans with Disabilities Act

There is no greater disability in society, than the inability to see a person as more

Robert M. Hensel


The ADA was signed 32 years ago on July 26th, 1990, during the H.W. Bush presidency, and took over two decades to be signed. This act being signed into law was a monumental change for those with disabilities to be able to have the right that all abled-body people have. This changed the lives of people with a disability, especially when you see how discriminated against, they were before the act was signed.

Left: original Right; colorized

Before the law was passed in 1990, having a disability was stigmatized and seen as that person’s issue and not a political or civil rights problem. When the civil rights movement began in the 1960’s people with disabilities were quick to join the movement so that they may be heard as well.

Some Examples of Life Before ADA was signed

  • People who used wheelchairs that wanted to ride public transportation were unable to or were forced to leave their wheelchairs behind.
  • Restaurants were allowed to refuse services to anyone with disabilities
  • Grocery stores could kick them out without reason
  • If people who use wheelchairs could enter a library, they could be denied checking out books just because of the chair
  • A person with disabilities could be paid less just because of their disability or refused to be hired.
  • Restrooms on trains were not accessible to many people with disabilities which forced them to wear diapers while traveling.

The ADA being signed was such a big deal to all people because of its progress to end discrimination amongst people with disabilities that have been fighting for these rights for decades. This change did not only affect one group of people because the results included changes in almost all aspects of life and began the shift in how people with disabilities are viewed.

Did You Know?

7.7 million of the U.S. population that has a disability are employed from 2026- 2020

A survey conducted by BLS showed that in 2019 19.3% of people with disabilities were employed in the US, in comparison 66.3% of people employed who do not have a disability.

Before the ADA was signed in June there were protests to urge congress to approve the disabilities act. A major one that has not been talked about much in today’s history lessons was the “Capitol Crawl” on March 12th, 1990. This march was when over 1,000 protestors, many of whom use wheelchairs, went to Washington and crawled up the steps of the capital without assistance to show that this law needs to be passed.

An attitudinal barrier is one of the 3 barriers that people with disabilities faced. This is when people see their disability rather than the person and it can take the form of bullying, discrimination, and fear. People will assume that they cannot do anything and can become very extreme if left unchecked.

Environmental barriers are when people are unable to access that can be naturally built or man-made. Like hiking trails, the ocean, etc.

Institutional barriers are when some laws or policies discriminate against people who have a disability, like businesses being allowed to refuse service. For example, a bank would be allowed to refuse a visually impaired person to open an account.


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed in 1990 to ensure that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, communication, public accommodations, and state and local government services.

The overall goal of this movement was for basic civil rights and to change the stigma surrounding their disability and show that their disability does not shape who they are.

Today people are learning to see the person before the disability and see people who may have autism or Down syndrome as people who just think differently rather than “being dumb”.

Now if a business removes accommodations for a disabled individual, they will be fined up to 15,000 dollars a year until it is added/fixed

Some of us were not alive yet when the act was passed so we do not notice the differences for people with disabilities like others, but there are many put in place.

Physical differences that we can see are things like: handicap parking, elevators, wheelchair ramps, TV captions, assistive listening headsets, braille materials, accessible restrooms, and many more.

Some other accommodations included:

  • Allowing employees with disabilities to work at home or use computers provided by their employer.
  • Ensuring that employees have access to restrooms near their worksite.
  • Providing readers or sign language interpreters for deaf employees; and
  • Allowing leave time for doctors’ appointments or therapy sessions.

People will continue to fight for change and not just equality but equity, so that we all have the chance to live full and happy lives without having to fight just to be able to get inside of a building. The ADA is an amazing organization that puts all its effort into fighting and holding people accountable while also educating those that do not know. Learn even more and how you can show support at the ADA anniversary page or the ADA website

Sources: ADA, US equal employment, American History museum , US department of labor


Ashlyn Pieri

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