Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

About 1 in 4 Americans has a disability, and odds are that one day you will be one of them, even if you are now in your teens or 20s and in the full bloom of youth.

There’s a decent likelihood that one day your hearing will start to fade, your vision will become blurrier, or arthritis will cause discs in your spine to degenerate, making a simple walk a painful task. You could also suffer an injury that will restrict your mobility, whether temporarily or permanently.

When that day arrives, you will be able to navigate through life with greater ease thanks to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

Before the ADA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush 30 years ago this week, the handicapped-accessible entrances to retail outlets that are now an everyday part of the landscape were not so common. The wide-ranging law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all facets of life, from employment and transportation to schools and businesses – anywhere that is open to the general public. Activists had been toiling for years to get such a law on the books, and it signaled that those who have disabilities can and should fully participate in the bustle of everyday life.

When Bush’s son was president in 2008, he issued a proclamation noting that the law “has made our schools and workplaces more welcoming, helped change attitudes that once seemed unchangeable, and expanded opportunity for many exceptional Americans. The ADA is one of the most successful civil rights laws in our history and has been an essential part of countless American lives.”

Since the ADA was enacted, employment of disabled adults has increased. According to pre-COVID 19 figures, 55% of people with disabilities aged 16 to 64 were employed. Many experts believe that the ADA has given a boost to employment for people with disabilities, but it hasn’t entirely removed discrimination from the equation. Lennard Davis, a professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who studies issues surrounding disabilities, noted on the law’s 25th anniversary in 2015, “There is a subtle distinction there that an employer might make consciously or unconsciously and say, ‘There’s going to be a little bit more trouble having this person; we’ll just choose another person. It’s very hard to prove that as a case of discrimination.”

Despite, the ADA, the United States still lags behind other developed nations in employing people with disabilities, and getting them on payrolls would benefit them in numerous ways, and also lead to fewer people drawing from Social Security’s disability fund.

Nevertheless, Americans with disabilities are in a much better position now than they were 30 years ago thanks to the ADA.

The first President Bush is more commonly remembered today for his achievements in foreign policy, particularly his management of the Persian Gulf War and the demise of communism in the Soviet Union and in Europe’s Eastern bloc. It can be argued that the Americans With Disabilities Act deserves more prominent attention within Bush’s legacy.

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