July marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the great civil rights accomplishments in our nation’s history. Signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the ADA prohibits workplace discrimination against people with disabilities, and makes sure that any person with a disability is granted equal employment opportunities and the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace and beyond.
In the years since it was enacted, the ADA has become a wide-ranging civil rights law prohibiting many different modes of discrimination based on disability. The legislation extends protections against discrimination similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made it illegal to discriminate based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics. Yet the ADA goes beyond the Civil Rights Act to also require workplaces to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with disabilities, and requires the public accommodations are accessible to all users. In this way, ADA regulations have benefited many Americans beyond those with disabilities. For example, subway stations that used to offer only stair access now have escalators or elevators which can be used by parents with baby strollers, travellers with rolling luggage, the elderly, people with knee injuries or temporary mobility impairment, and more. In this way, as disability advocates and disability attorneys commonly point out, the ADA benefits us all.
Under the ADA, disability types include both mental and physical conditions. A disability does not need to be severe or permanent to qualify. Regulations set forth by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provide a list of conditions commonly identified as disabilities, including deafness, blindness, an intellectual disability, amputation or mobility impairments that require wheelchair use, autism, cancer, cerebral palsy, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD and schizophrenia. Other mental and medical conditions can also be deemed disabilities, depending on symptoms that a person would have in the absence of “mitigating measures” (medication, therapy or assistive devices.
However, a number of conditions, like kleptomania, pedophilia, exhibitionism and voyeurism are expressly excluded under the definition of “disability” to prevent abuse of ADA statutes. In addition, other specific conditions like gender identity disorders do not qualify under the existing definition of “disability.”
Throughout the year and on this particular 25-year Anniversary (July 26, 2015), workplaces, schools and communities across the U.S. will be celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act. While much progress has been made, much remains to be done. The ADA National Network has offered a Tool Kit for celebrating this important civil rights milestone, and is providing information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). For ADA more information and questions visit www.adata.org.