30 Years of the ADA

I mentioned in this post that July is Disability Pride Month – it’s a fitting month to celebrate, because it’s the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA was signed into law 30 years ago this month, making it just slightly younger than me.
Image via Alyssa Silva
I think that a lot of people know about the ADA in a really vague, general way. They think that because the ADA exists, accessibility problems are now solved. But in reality, that’s far from the case. There’s still a stigma surrounding accessibility and accommodations; there’s still a belief that we should be grateful for the times that things are accessible, as if people are doing it out of the goodness of their hearts and not because they’re required by law.
When I think about inaccessibility, it falls into a few general categories for me. The first is when things are just flat-out inaccessible. These might be older structures, like a restaurant with steps, or newer things like Uber and Lyft. It might not be legal, but since the onus is on me (or other people with disabilities) to report inaccessibility, they persist. It’s endlessly frustrating, and I basically operate on the assumption that things are inaccessible until proven otherwise. I would have hoped, 30 years post-ADA, that there wouldn’t be as many of these cases as there are.
Then there’s the things that are technically accessible, but require jumping through some extra hoops. A few years ago, I went with a good friend to a fancy event in DC, held in the US Chamber of Commerce. Everyone else went through the big stone front steps, but we had to get in around the back, down a darkly-lit alley, and then be escorted throughout the building. Is it cool to see the parts that no one else got to? Sure! But going in through a dark alley lacks a bit of the wow factor, and doesn’t make you feel valued. And so many buildings have entrances like this – where you have to go in a separate entrance that you may or may not be able to find by yourself.
For me to get into Federal Galley, a restaurant in Pittsburgh’s North Side, an employee has to come out, take me into a parking garage, through a keycard-protected door, past the restaurant’s kitchen, and then onto an elevator. If I were going alone, without an able-bodied friend to go into the restaurant and let them know we needed help, how would I ever get in?
I could (and have) write a whole post about flying while disabled – not all planes are accessible, and I have to board very early and get off very last… spending a long time on a plane without an accessible bathroom! Can I fly? Yes. Is it a smooth, easy process? Definitely not.
And finally – there’s the structural things. Policies that incentivize me to remain under-employed, policies that stop disabled people from getting married because their joint income would force them to lose their extremely-necessary benefits. Even small things like the sidewalk policies here in Pittsburgh, which require homeowners to maintain their own sidewalks. Generally, they don’t, so they’re cracked and difficult for me to drive over, or covered in un-shoveled snow in the winter.
Clearly – we haven’t solved accessibility. Of course, I’m incredibly grateful for the ADA, and for the advocates that fought for it. I don’t even want to imagine what my life would have been without it. But I don’t want us to be complacent about accessibility, either. There is still work to be done. I look forward to when accessibility is the default and not the outlier.

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