EasyLlama Consistently Recognized Among Top Training Software Solutions

3 Empowering Ways the Americans With Disabilities Act Changed Lives

Harassment & Discrimination

Soft Skills

3 Empowering Ways the Americans With Disabilities Act Changed Lives

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has changed the lives of many people with disabilities. The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees who are disabled and it also requires public places like businesses, restaurants, hotels, and parks to make reasonable modifications for guests or patrons who have a disability. Let’s discuss how the ADA has opened doors for people with disabilities in the areas of education, transportation, and employment.

A History of Disability Discrimination

Before the anti-establishment cultural revolution of the 1960s changed so much about our world, discrimination against minorities was rampant. This included people with disabilities, who were virtually erased from public life and ridiculed for their appearance and behavior. According to National Geographic, it was the norm for people with disabilities to be sent to live in institutions, not allowed in public schools, or even involuntarily sterilized. “Some U.S. municipalities even had so-called ‘ugly laws’ prohibiting people with ‘unsightly or disgusting’ deformities in public places.”

The world was simply not accessible, especially to people with physical limitations or visual impairments. But things began to change when disability rights advocates were inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In the following decade, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act was passed as the first piece of legislation to use the term “discrimination” against people with disabilities and blocked federal funding to programs that practiced discriminatory behavior.

Passing the ADA in 1990

Although Section 504 was a big step forward in disability rights, businesses and organizations, particularly in the private sector, could still deny accommodations to people with disabilities. By the 1980s, the National Council on Disability made a push for a more comprehensive law protecting people with disabilities. The council’s vice chair Justin Dart, who came to be known as the “Godfather of the ADA,” toured the country to gather support and hear stories of disability discrimination that people faced every day.

Legislation moved slowly, which led to a dramatic March on Washington in 1990, also known as the “Capitol Crawl,” where multiple protestors abandoned their assistive devices and pulled themselves up the steps of the Capitol building to spotlight the lack of access in our country. Just four months later, the ADA was finally signed into law in the name of increasing the range of opportunities for disabled people. With CDC research showing that as of 2022, 1 in 4 American adults has a disability, the ADA continues to make an enormous impact in the daily life of these individuals. That impact even goes beyond the U.S. with more than 180 countries that passed legislation inspired by the ADA over the past three decades.

The ADA Required Public Spaces & Transportation be Accessible

One of the first ways that the ADA supported people with disabilities was by making public spaces and transportation more accessible. Buildings and schools were equipped with ramps and elevators, although legislation only required new buildings, old ones with easy changes, or substantial renovations to add them. In public communication and television, the ADA also made interpreters, closed captioning, and audio descriptions more widely available.

Strides for change were also made in transportation, with wheelchair lifts in buses and shuttles, cars with hand controls, curb cuts and underfoot surface changes on sidewalks and subways, and accessible public restrooms on trains and planes. Ultimately, these changes have made it easier for people with disabilities, and their families, to increase independence and reduce transportation time and expenses going to and from work, school, and appointments.

The ADA Helped Disabled Students Access Education

Before the ADA, schools could deny entry to a student simply because of their disability. Ed Roberts, known as the “Father of the Independent Living Movement,” was denied acceptance by the University of California, Berkeley, who stated that his iron lung, necessary for breathing because of paralysis, would not fit in a dorm room, which Roberts fought and won. He later became California’s Director of Rehabilitation, leading the same agency that refused to support his entry to UC Berkeley because he was “too disabled” to hold employment.

After 1990, both public and private schools were prohibited by the ADA from discriminating against “qualified individuals with disabilities,” requiring them to make reasonable accommodations in all opportunities, extracurriculars, and school buildings. Today, many K-12 students with disabilities are on 504 plans to support their education goals, in reference to the original Section 504 legislation of the Rehabilitation Act. An ADA Amendment expanded the definition of disability in 2008, and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act also further protects students in their pursuit of “free appropriate public education.”

The ADA Provided Equal Opportunities for Employment

Before the ADA, disability advocate Judy Heumann had her first experience with discrimination was in kindergarten, when an NYC public school denied her admission because her wheelchair was a fire hazard. Heumann eventually graduated from college with a degree in education, but was denied a teaching license for the same reason. In a landmark case, she successfully sued the NYC Board of Education in 1970, becoming the city’s first teacher using a wheelchair.

“We were being disregarded, not having ramps, not having accessible bathrooms, not being able to get across the street… being denied the right to go to school,” said Heumann. “Also being denied the right to study in fields that we wanted to because universities had prejudice about the kinds of jobs that they thought we could do.” In 1977, she led the longest peaceful occupation of a federal building in U.S. history at 28 days, successfully pushing the government to follow through with Section 504 legislation that had been passed four years earlier.

With the equal opportunities promised by Section 504 and the ADA, individuals with disabilities can now access employment that might not have been previously available through increased independence, improved transportation and building accommodations, and the prevention of discrimination. More and more employers are creating inclusive workplaces that recognize the skills and abilities within these individuals, who may just need additional supports to be successful.

How We Can Continue to Enforce and Expand the ADA

In the 30 years since the ADA was passed, great efforts have been made to improve access and ADA amendments have been made to expand the definition of a disability. However, there is still much work to be done in the public consciousness to reduce discrimination and stigma against disabilities, especially related to workplace rights. As just one example of many, disability organizer Imani Barbarin works for a PA disability legal office and has grown up with ADA protection, but she still sees it falling short. When she sent post-grad school job applications mentioning the crutches she uses to support her cerebral palsy, she didn’t get a single interview. Without mention of her disability, her applications turned into interviews.

Employers can help prevent the discrimination of hiring people with disabilities by including only the skills necessary in job descriptions — there’s no need to include the oft-quoted “frequent lifting or carrying of objects” requirement for most positions. Companies can also engage employees in diversity and inclusion or unconscious bias training to help create a healthy and safe work environment where discrimination cannot thrive. In fact, studies show that inclusive and diverse teams are 35% more productive and 19% more profitable.

With EasyLlama’s 100% online workplace training focusing on the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employees better understand the purpose of the ADA in the workplace, recognize and avoid disability-based discrimination, and implement effective policies to ensure legislative compliance. Let EasyLlama help you create a more accessible and inclusive work environment using our mobile-friendly courses that feature real-life workplace scenarios and interactive knowledge checks. Learn more today with our free course preview to support your organizational goals!

Get course preview for free!

Llama's fraseLlama in glasses

EasyLlama is your Smart Way To Train Your Team on Work Harassment

icon 0


Easy and intuitive training for all. Bite sized micro learning.

icon 1


Available anywhere, and on any devices, 24/7.

icon 2


Highest rated and most importantly... COMPLIANT in the industry

Trusted by over 8,000+ amazing organizations


Join the newsletter

Be aware of new workforce regulatory changes reguarding your industry and state.

llama img
llama img