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The Americans with Disabilities Act at 30: it’s a major news story

Man in wheelchair with guide dog

The Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30 this year. For people with disabilities, the ADA is their federal civil rights protection – equal to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, landmark civil rights and labor law that outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Inclusion of all people a key topic of the turbulent times.

Inequality, discrimination and bigotry – based on race, physical ability, gender, identity, belief system – denies education, housing, jobs and opportunity to deserving people. At its worst, bigotry can cut a life short.

In a time when America is taking a long look at police brutality, an out of balance justice system and fractured public policy – we must all join together to eliminate all inequities.

People with disabilities have long been the most unemployed and under employed of all minority groups.

Less than one percent of all housing in the United States is readily accessible to people who use wheelchairs. Let that sink in.

Do people suffer from housing discrimination because race, gender, orientation? Yes.

Is there any minority (other than people with disabilities) limited to less than one percent of all housing? The answer is a resounding no.

This is a problem and I worry that our national discussion about leveling the playing field for all – rarely if ever focuses on harrowing gaps in equity faced by people with disabilities.

I am urging journalists to be aware of this lack in coverage. When the 30th anniversary of unique legislation to protect civil rights of people with disabilities is looming this month, the lack of coverage is glaring.

The ADA has accomplished a lot over the three decades that it has been enforced as federal civil rights legislation.

It should be noted that it was approved with bipartisan support, with a Republican in the White House.

Incredibly, that party’s standard bearer, the very president of the U.S., willfully mocks disabled people in front of the entire nation. He then rubs salt in the wounds by smirkingly acting like nothing was wrong with it, while steadfastly refusing to apologize.

This is why the ADA – its gains, its failures, its impact, its future and any threats to its existence – MUST be explored in depth by every news organization. The media is our last defense in protecting diversity while ensuring rights for all.

Countless people of all ages have died of COVID in nursing homes and similar facilities – because despite being the wealthiest of nations, we prefer to warehouse people with disabilities in substandard conditions.

The rights of people with disabilities must be researched, explored and explained by dogged journalists.

I hope every newspaper, from the great old newspapers of record to the smallest daily in Middle America; every television station, from the highest rated network news to the smallest cable access show; and every radio news program, from Washington D.C. to low watt operation in the Rocky Mountains; has its best reporters, columnists and anchors working on ADA stories.

I am happy we have the ADA. When it passed, did I think the built environment would be 100-fold more accessible after 30 years of it on the books? Yes.

Am I deeply disappointed that sidewalks, parks, pools and other public spaces — as well as restaurants, retailers, hotels and taxi/rideshare vehicles – are still routinely inaccessible to my wife and others who use wheelchairs for mobility? A disgusted, resounding yes is the unfortunate answer.

But we must press one. We must protect the ADA and hope for more.

Inclusion is the name of the game in America. Every right-minded, good-hearted person is peacefully marching, voting with their dollars and making changes in their workplaces and personal behavior to ramp up equality.

It would be nothing short of unjust, in this era of heightened awareness, to report on every aspect of inclusion – with the exception of people with disabilities and the landmark ADA.

About the Author

Steve Wright
Steve Wright

Steve Wright (@stevewright64) is a writer and disability rights activist. His byline has appeared in hundreds of newspapers, magazines and online publications. He blogs daily from his Little Havana home at: