By John M. Williams
Twenty years ago Monday (July 26, 1990), around 11:00 a.m., I was sitting on the South Lawn at the White House between then Senator George Mitchell (D-ME) and Senator Bob Dole (R-KS. I was one of thousands of people attending the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (http://www.ada.gov/.) . The signing was an historic moment for the country, for people with disabilities and me.
The ADA is intended to eradicate discrimination against certain protected groups, to “level the playing field” so that everyone has the same access and opportunity, unhindered by prejudice. This anti-discrimination law is a civil rights act, not an entitlement program,
I had never seen so many people with different disabilities assembled in one place. The South Lawn had been invaded by an army of people with disabilities who had worked tirelessly for decades for this triumphant event. There was plenty of euphoria in the air. Surely this law would change their lives and the lives of future generations of people with disabilities. I heard many people with disabilities proclaim the event and the day their independence day.
Two decades later, I believe the ADA has had limited success. It has not in my opinion been the success people had heralded. There are still far, far too many unemployed people with disabilities. There are too many under employed people with disabilities. There arenâ€™t enough students with disabilities attending community colleges and higher learning institutions. There arenâ€™t enough people with disabilities in jobsâ€™ training programs. Etcetera.
The ADA offers enormous potential for people with disabilities. For the law to be effective it must be enforced continuously regardless of the political party controlling the White House and even Congress, ThePeople with disabilities and other advocates must hold Congress and the White House responsible when employment laws are not enforced.
People with disabilities must hold public and private sector employers accountable if they fail to hire qualified people with disabilities. If it is true that nearly 1/5 of the U.S. population has a disability then why arenâ€™t more people with disabilities visible in politics, law, the arts, business, education, information technology. journalism, medicine, science, construction, research and other fields.
The range of assistive technology products today give even the most severely disabled person an opportunity to work. For the ADA to work, employersâ€™ attitudes regarding the abilities of people with disabilities must change. Employers must learn more about assistive technology products and they can do this by visiting www.atia.org.
Also employers should learn about the contributions of John Milton, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Christi Brown, Stephen Hawking, Harrison Ford, Cher, Agatha Christie, Hans Christian Anderson, Albert Einstein, Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Richard Branson, Jay Leno, Daniel Inouye, Max Cleland, Ludwig Van Beethoven and Theodore Roosevelt. These individuals had and have disabilities.
A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Minds are being wasted when the ADA is not enforced.