By Shannon Kelly, Easter Seals DuPage & Fox Valley Development Intern
This past Sunday was a huge milestone for the disability community as the Americans with Disability Act turned 25. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the purpose of the ADA which was enacted in 1990 is to “prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunications relay services.”
This month really made me think about the power that the ADA has in society and what an impact it has on people with disabilities. I was born four years after the ADA was established, so I never experienced sidewalks without curb cutouts or inaccessible government agencies. While these may seem like small matters, the reality is that they make a huge difference.
And since the act was passed 25 years ago, it easy to take these things for granted, but it is important to remember the
advocates that fought diligently to make things like accessible public transportation and employment equality a reality. Their hard work and success in passing the ADA is still affecting millions of people with disabilities each day.
The ADA has made a profound impact on my life as a wheelchair user, and my ability to be independent. During the summers, I live at home in Elmhurst with my family and often spend time in Chicago. Last year I had an internship in the city and I often went to Navy Pier, Millennium Park, and attended different concerts and events. Driving into Chicago is not the most exciting thing to do, so I normally take the Metra train to the Ogilvie station and then take buses to get around downtown. The Metra is equipped with lifts and cars with more room for easier access and the CTA buses all have ramps that allow people in wheelchairs to get on. These features make it so much easier for me to get around and do everything I want to do.
The ADA has also required buildings and public areas to become more accessible. I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently, and was pleasantly surprised with their level of access. There was ramps and elevators to every exhibit as well as accessible restrooms. Millennium Park is also one of my favorite places to go in Chicago and it is very accessible for people with all disabilities. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion is a great place to check out events and it has resources to accommodate many different needs.
While the ADA has helped many people with disabilities lead independent lives over the past 25 years, the fight is not over. There is still much to be done in order to ensure people with disabilities have equal access in the community and to opportunities.
Public transportation has been greatly improved since the passing of the ADA, however only 69% of Chicago’s CTA train stations are currently accessible. The city of Chicago is working towards updating these stations, making sure they are more accessible to everyone, but it is a process and doesn’t happen overnight.
Additionally, the ADA requires all buildings built after 1990 to be accessible, but there are many older building and housing complexes that are hard for people with disabilities to access. And while the ADA prohibits companies to discriminate against applicants requesting reasonable accommodations, there is a very high unemployment rate among people with disabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that “17.1 percent of persons with a disability were employed, and in contrast, the employment-population ratio for those without a disability was 64.6 percent.”
Moving forward I believe it is important to continue to improve the infrastructure of buildings and public transportation to make them more accessible. Acceptance also plays a key role. When members of the community and employers become more open minded towards differences, it will help society become more inclusive of people with disabilities.
During the past 25 years there has been great successes and accomplishments through the ADA, there’s no doubt about that. We have come a long way and I can’t wait to see everything that is to come!