Celebrating Independence the Inclusive Way
National Disability Independence Day is July 26th
Summer is studded with celebrations of freedom: Juneteenth, July 4th, Pride, and of course – National Disability Independence Day.
What is National Disability Independence Day?
When & Why We Celebrate
National Disability Independence Day is celebrated on July 26th. It commemorates the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990. The U.S. law made it illegal to discriminate against those with disabilities, changing the lives of millions of people nationwide.
“America is stronger and more vibrant; it is a better country because of the ADA.”
A History of Discrimination
Life before the Americans with Disabilities Act was plagued with immense discrimination. Without legal protections, people with disabilities were denied basic opportunities and amenities.
- Employers could refuse to hire people with disabilities. Those who were able to secure employment could be paid less based on their disability status.
- Restaurants could turn away customers with disabilities.
- Wheelchair users would be required to abandon their wheelchairs to board a bus or other public transportation.
- Facilities did not need to accommodate physical accessibility guidelines, preventing many people with disabilities from using public restrooms, stores, or community areas.
“In 1949, there was another polio epidemic and I had polio. When I was 5 years old, my mother took me to school to register me. And that was the first time that I think they really understood that having a disability meant not being equal, because the principal denied me admission into the school because I was a fire hazard.”
The list of injustices was long and inexcusable. People with disabilities were struggling to find housing, employment, and freedom. Meanwhile, the people acting against them faced no legal consequences for their actions.
How the Americans with Disabilities Act Changed Inclusion in America
The Americans with Disabilities Act was the culmination of a centuries-long struggle to achieve equal rights for people with disabilities. It brought visibility and independence to people with disabilities by ensuring that they would have equitable access to all aspects of life.
The act defends people with disabilities from discrimination at work, at home, and in public.
- Employers cannot discriminate against people with disabilities based on disability status and “reasonable accommodations” must be made for all applicants.
- Physical barriers that impeded the accessibility of public infrastructure were to be removed, where such removal was “readily achievable.”
- Fixed route transportation services were required to provide transit to people with disabilities, which ushered in the adoption of chair lifts and ramps, elevators at way stations, and braille instructions at these junctures.
The ADA provides sweeping legal protections for people with disabilities. The guidelines of the act are responsible for massive inclusion initiatives and improvements throughout the country. Implementation of these improvements has been slow, and there are still future advancements needed to be made, but the ADA introduced a legal incentive into the equation.
Because of the ADA’s passage, millions of people with disabilities have begun to enjoy the complete splendor of societal integration. Disabled people are no longer forced into the background, an invisible majority, isolated from the very opportunities and pastimes that epitomize our humanity. They are now acknowledged legally, granted a new layer of protection – and a way to fight back against the lingering oppressors who continue to discriminate against people with disabilities.
“We’re not asking you to take care of us, but it’s just a little boost. And that’s what I guess you could say the ADA means to me. It’s just a little help from our fellow people.”
Why It Matters More Than 30 Years Later
This year, we celebrate 32 years since the monumental changes of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For our children, the days of unavoidable housing discrimination and transportation barriers are slowly transitioning into becoming little more than a dark part of this country’s history. We have much to be grateful for and many achievements to celebrate in these last three decades.
However, the stigma and challenges of having a disability in America persist. All these years later, we are still working to achieve true inclusion.
- Recent studies show that 2.5 billion people require assistive products like wheelchairs or hearing aids, but 1 million of them are denied access to these products.
- A multitude of adults and children with “invisible disabilities” are often overlooked in discussions about inclusion – which frequently stop at physical accessibility.
- As the number of students enrolled in special education continues to rise, the severity of the educator shortage is sharply felt in classrooms of disabled children. Less personalized instruction and care diminish education outcomes.
- According to the NCD’s “2020 Progress Report on National Disability Policy: Increasing Disability Employment,” roughly two-thirds of the 22 million working-age Americans with disabilities face unemployment.
Celebrating National Disability Independence Day allows us to highlight the advancement of disability inclusion in America, while acknowledging the growth that we have yet to achieve. On July 26th, when the voices of people with disabilities are elevated, we can share our stories and chart a more inclusive path forward.
How to Celebrate
Join us in commemorating the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act! Here’s how we plan to make the most of the day.
Learn Something New
Educational programs, including courses, conferences, and podcasts, can help you get caught up on the ins and outs of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Do research on the progress we’ve made as a nation toward disability inclusion, and dig into the issues still impacting disabled people in your community. Learning more now gives us more to celebrate next year as we continue making strides toward widespread inclusion.
KIT offers free inclusion 101 resources for you to enjoy and share as well.
Local events offer a way to connect. Find celebrations in your area and join other people with disabilities who are proud of who they are. After all, July is Disability Pride Month! The ADA National Network maintains a calendar of upcoming events for all throughout the year. We also recommend getting in touch with community groups dedicated to disability inclusion. They’ll be hosting events for you to enjoy, or they will know where you can find one to attend!
Spread the Word
Your personal experience has power. Your story has an impact. As a person with a disability, National Disability Independence Day is the perfect time to share what you’ve been through. Express to a global audience how you experience the world – how it’s changed since the ADA, how far it has left to go, how things have stayed the same. Your perspective will resonate, and with social media, your voice can carry across the world. Start conversations and connect with communities of like minded folks who are living proof of the ADA’s importance.
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