July 24, 2020

PFLAG National intern Sam Krauss (they/them) is a government and sociology double major going into their senior year at Smith College who comes from Abington, Pennsylvania. The art featured on this piece is by Dandy (she/they) from Dandy Doodlez. They are a UK-based artist focusing on the intersections of queerness and disability

Honoring 30 years of the ADA

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) this weekend, we give thanks to the disability community for this law. The ADA laid the framework for how a marginalized group could ask for what it needed and enforce their rights to access this world after it went into law. The Equality Act would not be possible without the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

The ADA made it so that people with disabilities do not have to disclose their disabilities in order to be deemed worthy of living full lives. Thanks to protections through the ADA, people do not have to fear retaliation by potential employers or landlords because they learned about their mental illness or HIV status in order to enjoy their right to fair employment and housing. 

A key lesson from the ADA is its definition of “public accommodation,” and the types of places that are considered “public.” Thanks to the ADA, sidewalks have ramps, crosswalks make noise, buildings have accessible elevators, hotels have wide hallways, stores have automatic doors, and schools have support services for people who need them. The Equality Act uses that same idea of public accommodation put forward by the ADA to broaden the places that all people, inclusive of race, color, religion, sex, (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and national origin can access. 

With the enactment of the Equality Act, teens would not be followed or harassed through and out of stores. Cab drivers could no longer pass by a person wearing a hijab. A food bank could not refuse a person because they are transgender and a health care provider could not refuse to treat a pregnant person. In other words, a person could expect to be served and treated well and not threatened in public spaces once the Equality Act becomes law.

The ADA has laid an impressive framework, but it has taken many years of disability activism to bring cities, employers, and businesses to where we are today. As the ADA’s lead sponsor in the House and current Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer and Rep. Jim Langevin announced today, there is still work to be done. 

To this day, the disability community does not have marriage equality because income caps to maintain Social Security and Medicaid services are often exceeded upon marriage. People should not have to choose between marrying their partners and keeping their personal care. Additionally, for those who need long-term support services, like assistance getting out of bed, bathing, dressing, and preparing meals, the only affordable option is to move to an institution. This risks forcing people out of the homes they have built in the neighborhoods where they have formed their communities. The Disability Integration Act would address this problem, but it has not moved through its Senate Committee since being introduced on January 15, 2019. 

The ADA is one of many pieces of legislation working to eradicate discrimination. That’s why we need the Equality Act. We need comprehensive legislation protecting the unprotected because we can’t just take parts of people. So, let’s take today to celebrate the ADA and then continue working for the freedom of self-determination for all marginalized people. 

Here are some pieces to read to keep the conversation going: