What is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990? - History & Accessibility Guidelines

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  • 0:03 Equality for All
  • 1:00 The ADA of 1990
  • 2:11 Facilities &…
  • 3:26 A History of the ADA
  • 5:58 Impact on Society
  • 6:28 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Sharon Linde
What is the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990? Learn about the ADA's history, the individuals it protects, the accessibility guidelines, as well as how the disability movement ensured the passing of this important legislation.

Equality for All

It may be hard to imagine, but not so long ago Americans with physical or mental impairments didn't have the same rights and freedoms as other Americans. If your disability required the use of a wheelchair, a potential employer may have chosen not to hire you. Transportation systems and businesses weren't required to make accommodations, such as building ramps, and disabled people may even have been denied health insurance. How would this have impacted someone's day-to-day life?

Luckily, this all changed in 1990, with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Much like laws that protect people from being discriminated against based on gender or race, the ADA makes sure those with disabilities have an equal opportunity to live their lives to the fullest, just like all other Americans. Let's take a closer look at what this means.

The ADA of 1990

When you think of the ADA, you may call to mind adaptations and accommodations, like wheelchair ramps on public buildings or the special stall in restrooms. Yes, these are examples of adaptations made due to the ADA, but the act covers much more ground. The ADA requires equal opportunities to individuals in the areas of:

  • Education and work
  • Buildings and facilities
  • Telecommunications
  • Access to information

The ADA ensures that individuals are granted equal access to work and educational facilities. For example, the act requires that institutions provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to pursue higher education and be treated fairly in our educational system. Additionally, the ADA has provided individuals with protection against discrimination in the workplace. For example, in a workplace employers are required to accommodate qualified individuals, such as providing ramps for wheelchairs and desks at appropriate heights.

Facilities & Telecommunications

The ADA also covers specific requirements for buildings and facilities, both newly constructed and existing. For example, the number of handicap parking spaces available is now based on the total number of allotted spaces. School buildings must put in elevators for students with limited mobility, and buses and bus stops have audio accompaniment to let the visually impaired know when a bus or stop is approaching. Accommodations can be found in restaurants, government buildings, transportation facilities, medical care facilities, schools, and so on.

Companies that offer telephone services must offer accommodations to individuals with disabilities. How do people with hearing impairments hear a phone ring? It may vibrate or light up to accommodate their disability. The proponents of the ADA wanted to make sure everyone had access to information when in public places. Close your eyes and picture the buttons on an elevator or a sign at a museum. Have you seen the Braille writing there? Yep - this is thanks to the ADA and is just one example of how the law ensures information is there for all Americans to 'see.'

A History of the ADA

Believe it or not, until 1920, women in America weren't allowed to vote. Black children could not attend the same schools as white children, and people could be denied access to housing based on their religion. These are examples of discriminatory practices, unfair or unequal laws or practices based on religion, gender, race, or disability. These practices were challenged and changed, thankfully, by action American citizens took. Think of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, which focused our collective consciousness on racial discrimination.

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