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20 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Pete Springer/OPB

Disability rights activists say the importance of the 20-year-old ADA is hard to overstate. The law prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in most areas of public life, from employment to public services. But many are also quick to point out that the act has been more successful in some areas than others. Parking and transportation are good examples of success. However, the unemployment rate for people with disabilities remains high — and a huge percentage of people with disabilities are not even in the workforce to be counted!

One example of the law’s success is a young woman named Emily Holmes. She’s what many people might think of as just another active Northwesterner. She’s in her late 20s with a full-time clerical job. She also volunteers a lot of hours to a non-profit near and dear to her heart. She says she makes a big mess when she bakes. And she hikes, rock climbs and goes camping whenever she can. What you might never guess from talking to her is that Emily deals everyday with five different mental disabilities.

It’s true she’s employed, which makes her part of a minority within the disability community. But most important of all, her expectations have always been that her needs will be accommodated. She doesn’t see her Tourette’s or other disabilities as things that need fixing or apologizing for — that’s just how life is for her. She deals with it, and expects that others will naturally do the same.

That, say disability rights activists, is exactly the kind of social and cultural shift the law was intended to produce. 

Do you live with a disability? Do you work with or employ people with disabilities? What has the ADA meant to you? What areas if any do you think the law needs to go further in? Are there areas where the ADA has gone too far?



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