July 26, 2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the landmark legislation that provided equal access and protection from discrimination in employment, public services and accommodations, telecommunications, and transportation for people with disabilities.
The signing of the ADA represents an unforgettable symbol of independence and overdue recognition of the rights of people with disabilities. It has opened the doors of access and inclusion and has provided opportunities for individuals with disabilities to break through institutional barriers that have held so many people back for so many years. This law has been the vehicle for equal opportunity in employment, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.
The ADA has helped people gain access to public services and accommodations with attention to things like curb ramps, accessible parking, buses with lifts and ramps, and making media more accessible with closed captioning and relay services. For many, access to places like shops, stores, restaurants, theaters, hotels, and other public places defines community integration, inclusion, and full participation.
The ADA has made a significant difference in the lives of people with disabilities, including me. Growing up prior to the enactment of the ADA, I was ashamed to admit I had a disability. I was the kid in grammar school who wore thick glasses with very low vision. I feared being segregated from my peers and not being accepted by them – a feeling many had and still have today.
Unlike doorways and sidewalks, people’s minds and unconscious biases cannot be expanded by laws like the ADA. Every day, our work at DOR is not only to continue to advocate to protect the legacy and vision of the ADA, but also to educate all of those around us by building the expectation that people with disabilities have the talent and potential to obtain competitive employment in integrated work settings. We provide people with disabilities support, services, and advocacy that create a path towards employment – leading to a life of independence.
While the ADA has moved us forward in accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities, there is still much work to be done. People with disabilities still encounter serious barriers to employment and other important facets of full inclusion, equality, and independent living in society. We need to continue the important work we do to build a vibrant and inclusive community for everyone to realize the goal of a California for All.
Today, I ask you to reflect on how the past three decades have shaped who we are and recommit to ensuring full access and inclusion of people with disabilities so that we can fully realize the talent and potential of all individuals. Our continued commitment to the pursuit of employment, independence, and equality for all is more important today than ever before.
Thank you all for your commitment to our mission and your work to advance and make our vision as DOR a reality.