When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed in 1990, I recall thinking this legislation was entirely appropriate, “the right thing to do,” an expansion of equal rights. At the time, it was all theoretical for me. I didn’t have any skin in that game to speak of.
Diagnosed with Vision Loss
Two years later, at 33, an ophthalmologist explained that the small spot that developed in my vision was a retinal bleed caused by macular degeneration. This was more correctly diagnosed later as myopic degeneration. Both of these conditions cause slow but uncorrectable vision loss. By 2001, after losing a job due to my vision loss and anxiety about it, the ADA became far more meaningful to me. I tried to navigate the employment world with recent vision loss making it more challenging to use the computer as I’d always done, read, try to negotiate alternative transportation, etc.
I didn’t know it then, but I was in good company. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 US adults has a disability affecting significant life activity. By age 65, 2 in 5 adults will have a disability. The prevalence of disabilities in our neighborhood, school, or workplace may not be evident until we consider the statistics. Many disabilities are not visible. For example, you’d probably never guess I was visually impaired unless you asked me to read something and saw the magnification or text-to-speech on my computer while I worked.
At 30 years old, my first impression of the ADA was that it might help “others” with a disability get a fair shake at a job, a needed accommodation, or remove a barrier. I really had no idea of what a positive impact it might have on all of us or that I, too, might one day be benefited from this legislation.
Recognition of the Value of the ADA Slow in Coming
It’s often been pointed out that the accommodations guaranteed by the ADA were initially not well received. Only later did people begin to recognize how these accommodations benefit all of us by positively impacting our neighborhoods, schools, and businesses. For example, who would have imagined that 50 years after Ed Roberts, a Berkeley student and wheelchair user, and the “Rolling Quads” broke up curbs late at night and created their own cement ramps in San Francisco, we would all be using curb cuts in our neighborhoods! Kids on bikes, skateboards, and rollerblades, parents with strollers, walkers, travelers with suitcases, and yes, commuters in wheelchairs all use the curb cuts that many communities resisted at first and considered an “accommodation.”
Imperative to Support and Maintain the ADA
Thirty years after the signing of the ADA, it is even more apparent how this legislation has benefitted us, our communities, and our workplaces. With so many of us confronting disabilities later in life, it is imperative today than ever that we support and maintain the integrity of the ADA.