ADA: On 10th Anniversary, Many Reflect on Progress
Ten years ago today, President George Bush signed the Americans With Disabilities Act to advance the rights of people with disabilities. Many have dubbed it a "civil rights act" for people with disabilities, as the law prohibits employers from discriminating against the disabled and requires public agencies and businesses to ensure their services are accessible to disabled individuals. Some of the changes that took place just 10 years ago are now so commonplace they have become "part of the woodwork" of America: parking spots for the disabled, bathrooms equipped for wheelchair access and elevators featuring braille numbers. More subtle changes include the Federal Communications Commission's recent mandate that telecommunications carriers install 711 as a universal dialing code for people with speech or hearing disabilities to access specially trained operators. A result of these changes is that Americans "see people with disabilities more and more," Curt Decker, executive director of the National Association of Protection Advocacy Systems, said, noting, "Because the malls are accessible and parking places are accessible ... people are out." Marca Bristo, chair of the National Council on Disability, added, "We have more standing than we used to. We are taken more seriously" (Carter, Owensboro Messenger-Inquirer, 7/23).
Survey Shows Mixed Results
However, a new survey released yesterday by HalfthePlanet.com, a Web site dedicated to disabled individuals, reveals that the road to equality for disabled citizens has a long way to go. While 94% of Americans support public spending on improving forms of accessibility for disabled individuals, employers apparently do not show the same widespread acceptance of disabled persons. The Gallup & Robinson survey showed that approximately 25% of respondents with a disability have "failed to get a job because of their disability." David Brenner, founder and CEO of HalfthePlanet.com, said, "While the general population has changed its attitude toward people with disabilities, the attitude of employers hasn't kept pace. It is clear that much work needs to be done to create real opportunities for people with disabilities to participate meaningfully in the workforce" (HalfthePlanet.com release, 7/25). Julie Hofius, an attorney who uses a wheelchair, writes in a Houston Chronicle op- ed that the ADA has established a barrier for individuals like herself, who now appear as a "lawsuit on wheels" to employers. The ADA, she said, "makes it difficult for them to comply with its provisions, thus inviting lawsuits" (7/25). Another barrier to employment is health benefits. Mike Zelley, executive director of the Michigan-based Disability Network, added that disabled people "often have to make a choice between health care and working" because going to work would force them to relinquish the health benefits they receive under the Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income, along with Medicare or Medicaid. Many fear that employers' insurance would not provide the same benefits (Campbell, Ann Arbor News, 7/17). To break down this barrier, President Clinton in December signed the Ticket to Work and Work Incentive Improvement Act to increase employment opportunities for people with disabilities who require health care and other support services (Vincent, Manchester Union Leader, 7/26).