Reflections on the 26th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

By Christine Grosso, MS, Public Policy Analyst, AUCD

August 1, 2016

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990. The ADA is the Nation's first comprehensive civil rights law that addresses the needs of people with disabilities by prohibiting discrimination in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications. Advocates fought tirelessly for decades to make this vision a reality by demanding that disability rights are civil rights  and that individuals with disabilities - young and aging -  should not be excluded from their communities, should not be forced to live in a segregated setting, and should not be deemed as individuals who have little to contribute to their country. Rather, everyone in this great nation should be protected, valued, and given the same rights as their fellow neighbor.

Representing 6.5 million students and approximately 50 million adults with cognitive, physical, and/or developmental disabilities, the ADA has broadened protections and promoted the inclusion, integration and empowerment for individuals with disabilities. As President Obama proclaimed, "it has swung open doors and empowered each of them to make of their lives what they will."

The Association of University Centers on Disabilities (AUCD) is a nationwide organization made up of students, advocates, families, and professionals working to drive change on issues vital to people with disabilities and their families. As a policy specialist with AUCD, I was invited to attend two White House events celebrating the 26th anniversary of the ADA: an East Wing tour of the White House followed by a summit at the Department of Education.

The East Wing tour included a photo collage depicting advocates and champions of the ADA, and timelines of when the ADA was introduced, passed, and amended. The tour was filled with people of all abilities and ages, some of whom shared with us their experiences prior to the ADA being signed into law. The White House Summit to Support African American Students with Disabilities brought together young African American students with disabilities and their families, advocates, and White House and Office of Civil Rights staff in a very intimate setting to explore the needs of African American students with disabilities. This summit included group discussions, workshops, and storytelling that focused on strategies to ensure that the cognitive, social, and emotional learning and development of students are nurtured. In addition, it offered promising and proven approaches to ensuring postsecondary success, with particular attention to access, transition, and support. The summit concluded with each student reading their "I am... I need..." statement in which they declared to the nation who they are, how they feel about their disabilities, and what they need in order to be successful and feel supported.

It was an honor to be surrounded by families, parents, and advocates who dedicate their time, energy, and passion to ensuring equity for all. Their strength and determination is a valuable testament and reminder as to why I work at the Association of University Centers on Disabilities.

"I will continue to speak even if my hands shake and I am nervous." - Summit pledge