This month, our nation is celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act—the landmark civil rights law securing the rights of people with disabilities. As chief author of the law, I remember the day it was signed into law—June 26, 1990—as one of the proudest in my entire legislative career.
Today, the impacts of ADA are all around us. Drive-through restaurants have visual displays allowing the deaf and hard of hearing to place their orders outside. Banks have talking ATMs, now, to assist those with visual impairments. Cities have installed curb cuts and ramps to allow wheelchair users easier access. And on and on.
Just as important, because of the ADA, we have seen an enormous change in attitudes. It used to be socially acceptable to treat people with disabilities as second-class citizens, to exclude and marginalize them. I remember my brother Frank, who had a profound hearing disability, being sent off to a “school for the deaf and dumb,” and later being offered just three job possibilities: baker, printer’s assistant, or cobbler.
Today, by contrast, the expectation is that we will do what it takes to give people with disabilities not just physical access, but an equal opportunity in our schools, in our workplaces, in all areas of our economy and society.
Just as important, ADA has changed attitudes. We have overcome the false dichotomy between “disabled” and “able.” We recognize that people with disabilities – like all people – have unique abilities, talents, and aptitudes. And that America is better, fairer, and richer when we make full use of those gifts.
To observe this 15th anniversary, I invite Americans with disabilities and their loved ones to share their stories. Tell me how ADA has made a difference in your life. Just go to my Senate home page at www.harkin.senate.gov/. Scroll down to the lower right hand corner. Then, under the item labeled “ADA,” click on “Share Your Story,” and tell me about your experience.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has made a huge difference in our society. It has opened doors, created opportunity, and transformed lives. If you are one of those who have benefitted from this law, I’d love to hear from you.