A Time Machine with Hand Controls, Episode IV: The ADA Becomes a Law
The ADA is a complex piece of legislation. I will not try to comment on or cover everything that is in it. But in this episode of “A Time Machine with Hand Controls, you will see the steps that were taken over a period of 25 years which led to the signing of the ADA in 1990.
Because the ADA was just an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which did not cover discrimination based on disability. So really what this means is that from 1964 to 1990, it was illegal to discriminate based on color gender, age, etc, but if you were in a wheelchair or were blind, or an amputee, or had any of a wide range of mental disabilities, you were not covered, you were not protected by the U.S. Government. That is part of why the only disabled people you saw out in public were the homeless Vietnam War veterans in wheelchairs out on the street begging for money. The opportunity to be a full, thriving successful member of society was extremely limited.
In 1973 things got better with the Rehabilitation Act, but even this only pertained to programs conducted by Federal agencies. It did not protect anyone from discrimination in every day life. Jobs, accessibility to buildings where one may conduct every day business, take part in social activities, entertainment, etc. After the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the disabled could now get government jobs and receive benefits of government programs, but those programs were limited at the time. Accessibility to public buildings, public transportation, and employment in the public sector was not open to folks with disabilities until 1990.
In 1986, the National Council on Disability demanded that one law be passed protecting the rights of all people with disabilities. But we all know how slow federal government works on these kinds of things. It still took a couple of years. In fact the first draft of the ADA was written in 1988, two years before it passed.
Around this same time, the Civil Rights Act was rewritten to include people living on Federal Funds, i.e., people on Social Security, which did in fact cover a lot of people with disabilities. But not all of them.
The Fair Housing Act also came in 1988, and made discrimination against the disabled in public housing illegal, which in itself led to more accessible apartment buildings. But really it just said that land lords could not decline someone rental based on their disability.
So as you can see, the ADA really came together in a slow, choppy process, in pieces, over time, culminating in 1988 when many things were happening for the disabled at one time and somebody noticed it and said “Hey, why don’t we give these people some Civil Rights” while we are at it?”