Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 20

By Jason Beahm on July 27, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Happy twentieth birthday, Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA was originally signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. The landmark legislation was designed to help Americans who could not receive equal access to facilities due to disabilities. While much progress has been made under the law, it also remains an ongoing source of complaint and controversy.

The ADA prohibits discrimination due to disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications.

The creator of the legislation, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, introduced a resolution last week applauding the progress under the law: "Twenty years ago, we heard testimony from Americans who had to crawl on their hands and knees to go up a flight of stairs; who couldn't ride on a bus because there wasn't a lift; who couldn't even cross the street in their wheelchairs because there were no curb cuts ... The ADA has broken down barriers, created opportunities and transformed lives."

Many businesses find the law to be a source of high costs which benefit very few, to the detriment of the business. Some organizations have made multimillion dollar changes to their buildings and businesses in order to comply with the law and avoid lawsuits. CNN recently reported about the Los Angeles International Airport, where they recently installed grassy "relief stations" for air travelers traveling with guide dogs. The stations came equipped with water bowls and fake fire hydrants to help facilitate canine urination.

Despite the criticism, access to facilities remains a priority of the Obama administration. Kareem Dale, President Obama's White House adviser on disability policy, said that as technology continues to progress, the ADA will have to be updated to help bring equal access online. "Our goal is to help level the playing field with disabilities to ensure that everyone has an opportunity," Dale said.

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