So many of us believe that once a civil rights law is enacted the battle has
been won and the struggle has ended. But enactment is merely the opening of
the legal door. Many of us thought that passage of the ADA would bring about
a significant change, a quick removal of physical and societal barriers. A
number of our members have complained to me that ADA has brought little
change in their lives. but what so many don’t realize is that the ADA
provides a legal foundation for demanding our right to be treated equally.
It is up to us as an organization and as individuals as to whether we will
constructively make use of the ADA. Here’s BEN MATTLIN’s point of view:
An Act That Enabled Acceptance.
By BEN MATTLIN.
Ben Mattlin is the author of ‘Miracle Boy Grows Up: How the Disability
Rights Revolution Saved My Sanity.
VISIT me and you’ll see, prominently displayed in my living room, my wedding
portrait. My wife looks radiant in a lacy white cloud, standing beside
tuxedo’ d me in my motorized wheelchair. I’m not propped on a sofa or
lounger; my wheelchair is deliberately not cropped out of the photo. It’s
literally part of the picture, as it’s always been for us.
We were married almost exactly one year before passage of the Americans With
Disabilities Act, the 25th anniversary of which will be celebrated today,
July 26. I’m a lifelong wheelchair user because of a genetic condition
called spinal muscular atrophy; my wife is what’s now called ‘neurotypical,’
a fancy term for nondisabled. But on our wedding day, my disability — and
my concomitant lack of basic civil-rights protections — was far from our
Of course, the A.D.A. had nothing to do with marriage equality. What it did
do, the government noted, was mandate equal access in employment, public
accommodations and government programs for anyone who ‘has a physical or
mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life
activities’ or’a history or record of such an impairment’ or ‘is perceived
by others as having such an impairment. This meant public spaces like
stores, theaters and restaurants had to install ramps or electric lifts;
many doorways had to be widened; elevators revamped with Braille buttons;
and public restrooms altered.
Employers, too, had to make ‘reasonable accommodations’ for disabled
workers, such as allowing flex time or providing telephone headsets or
appropriate computer software. Before the A.D.A., only public schools and
other institutions that received federal funding faced similar requirements.
A few states — notably, California — had already established some
accessibility standards, but nothing as broad-based as the A.D.A.
Back then, I was only marginally aware that I could be — or even had been