by desmoinesdem, Sun Jul 25, 2010 at 08:47:20 AM EDT
The Americans with Disabilities Act became U.S. law 20 years ago this week. Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, the law's key author and sponsor, keynoted an anniversary celebration in Iowa City yesterday. He called for further action, in particular personal attendant services for those who need them. But there's no question that the ADA improved the lives of millions of Americans. As Harkin told the Cedar Rapids Gazette a few days ago,
“Before the ADA, life was very different for folks in Iowa and across the country,” Harkin said. “Discrimination was both commonplace and accepted.”
After 20 years with ADA, “we recognize that people with disabilities — like all people — have unique abilities, talents and aptitudes,” he said, “and America is better, fairer and richer when we make full use of those gifts.”
However, Harkin sees the need to do more to help people with disabilities live outside of institutions and to help them gain employment.
I remember when Congress was debating this law, and some Republicans warned that new regulations on businesses would wreck the economy and spark endless lawsuits. However, President George H. W. Bush's administration ultimately decided not to go to war against this bill, and compromise language exempting small businesses from some requirements satisfied most Congressional Republicans. The final version of the ADA passed the Senate on a 91 to 6 vote in July 1990. Most Republicans joined all the Democrats present in voting yes.
Bipartisan support for ADA continued when Harkin worked with Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah to "preserve the intent of the ADA after several court rulings weakened its standards." The ADA amendments act of 2008 passed by voice vote in the House and unanimous consent in the Senate. Last week a Senate resolution recognizing the ADA's 20th anniversary and celebrating "the advance of freedom and the opening of opportunity" this law made possible passed by a 100 to 0 vote. That indicates how far out of the mainstream Rand Paul is; the Republican Senate candidate from Kentucky believes the ADA goes too far and is unfair to business owners.
Harkin became an advocate for people with disabilities in part because his brother Frank was deaf. Probably most Americans have at least one friend or relative who has directly benefited from the ADA. The accessibility guidelines for curbs, doors and entrances have allowed my wheelchair-bound friend to take her son to the park, to preschool or to a coffee shop. Before the ADA, a mother in her situation would have been unable to enjoy those things.
This thread is for any comments about the ADA or continuing barriers faced by people with disabilities.