This law effectively gave people with disabilities the same rights, privileges and protections as those who might have been discriminated against based on race, color, religion, gender or national origin (Civil Rights Act, 1964). What the act did, in effect, was provide more comprehensive CIVIL RIGHTS protection to those who have a disability from discrimination in regard to employment, public services, public accommodations and telecommunications. So, the law is indeed much more than “wheelchair accessible.”
According to the National Council on Disability, the ADA had four major goals for the lives of Americans with a disability:
• Equality of opportunity
• Full participation
• Independent living
• Economic self-sufficiency
In other words, the law was passed to provide a level playing field for all people regardless of ability. So, in the past 25 years, what kind of impact has ADA made?
In researching this subject, the overall consensus is that ADA has made great strides in improving public and private accommodations, transportation and awareness. As a wheelchair user myself, before 1990 my customary practice was to drive around a building to see if there was a ramp available at all; today, there is no problem in most urban areas. In fact, most apartments built in the past 10 years have doorways into bathrooms that measure 30” wide instead of the traditional 24” (in other words, enough for a wheelchair to fit through).
Since 1990 I’ve also seen a definite improvement in public transportation access for those with a disability, including the relatively new Houston METRORail system and the fitting of wheelchair lifts on Metro buses.
I want to be clear here: my disability is not the only disability, just the one that I am most knowledgeable about. Improvements for other disabilities have been seen as well. Assistive technology has increased for physical, sensory and intellectual disabilities.
Would these improvements have occurred without the passage of the ADA? Perhaps, but I agree with a quote by one unnamed participant in a survey when asked what effects the ADA had upon their life:
“And perhaps this would have happened without the ADA, but I like to think that it is in large measure because of the ADA … because people are thinking about it, people are talking about it. Disability is out in the open, something to be discussed, analyzed, considered and factored in.”1
Among the benefits of ADA removing barriers and protecting the civil rights of those who have a disability, perhaps awareness is the most evident. Awareness not only helps us understand the effects of something occurring right now, but it also gives us the initiative to make change that will benefit all groups involved; regardless of ability.
1The Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act: Assessing the Progress Toward Achieving the Goals of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Retrieved from
David Spears is a member of the Workforce SolutionsNavigator team for the Texas Gulf Coast Region. Combining training and education to real world examples, David brings personal and professional experience with disabilities to the table in order to help job seekers with disabilities realize their potential. David has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration with over 20 years of experience in the business world.