Among other things, 2020 will be remembered as the 30th anniversary of the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). On July 26, 1990, President Bush signed into law the “independence day” for persons with disabilities. A law that was years in the making, hard-fought for, and passed by a bi-partisan Congress. It was meant to create an accessible society where everyone can take part, regardless of physical, mental, or communication differences. While we’re still working on achieving a perfectly accessible world, the progress has been amazing!
One of the unique attributes to the ADA is found in Title V. Congress provided authorization to create a network of informational resources on the ADA. A means to disseminate Congress’s intent of the ADA. In the past, laws have been created and passed, but without a resource to help convey what the law was meant to do. Congress wisely realized that the ADA was going to be a BIG change in our country and would need some help in seeing it implemented.
This forethought led to what was and still is the answer to that need - the ADA National Network! Consequently, 2021 celebrates another milestone from the passing of the ADA - the ADA National Network turns 30 years old. The National Network is a system of 10 information centers that are regionally dispersed to help understand and implement the ADA. Each Center focuses on its specific region, recognizing that there are cultural, historic, climate, and geographic differences throughout our country. Having the Centers regionally situated ensures that the technical assistance provided is relevant to that area. For example, some state laws are more stringent than the federal ADA, and your region will provide that info when needed.
From 1991-2021, the Rocky Mountain ADA Center has had the honor of maintaining the Rocky Mountain region since its inception, without changing hands during this period. This region includes Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah and Wyoming. Throughout these 30 years, we have witnessed many changes because of the ADA, both personally and as a Center. There wasn’t much information available in the early years, as the law was brand new and there wasn’t much guidance. But thirty years later, there are some great resources for understanding and implementing the law. There is also now case law to help interpret and capture the spirit of the ADA.
But even now, some of the basics of the ADA continue to be misunderstood and basic civil rights are still violated. Some examples include:
- Service animals continue to be denied entry into public accommodations. A recent Department of Justice settlement agreement confirmed that “The ADA requires that public accommodations generally permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability.”
- The requirement for effective communication for people who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind, deaf/blind or speech impaired still have to fight to enjoy the basic right of being able to understand their medical and/or legal issues in their form of communication. Another settlement agreement states “The ADA prohibits public accommodations, including hospitals, from discriminating on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of their goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations. Discrimination includes failing to take such steps as necessary to ensure that no individual with a disability is excluded, denied services, segregated, or otherwise treated differently than any other individual because of the absence of auxiliary aids and services.”
- Four individuals with mobility disabilities, alleged that the Municipality of San Juan violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title II of the ADA, by failing to install and maintain curb ramps necessary to ensure its sidewalks are accessible to individuals with mobility disabilities. In response to this the Department of Justice filed a Statement of Interest asserting its position that “the provision and maintenance of public sidewalks is a service, program or activity within the meaning of Title II.”
- An employer fired an employee with a disability for taking a medical leave of absence. The employer failed to engage in the interactive process and fired her in retaliation. The employer has settled this case. In another ongoing case, an employer fired a worker after finding out that she was being tested for cancer. The EEOC has alleged that the employer terminated the employee because they regarded her as disabled.
Yes, unfortunately there will be times when issues come up and people can’t come to an agreement. But fortunately - there are resources available to help avoid the legal path. One of them is your ADA National Network! If you have questions about your rights and/or your responsibilities under the ADA, the National Network is available to help walk you through the options. We can provide insight to questions, training on all aspects of the ADA, referrals to appropriate agencies, materials on the ADA, and sometimes just an unbiased means to bounce off ideas. Check us out!
And, be sure to visit the special National Network 30th Anniversary website, where you will find highlights of the work of the 10 Centers throughout 2021. Each Center offers their own variety of training and materials and information, so there is something to gain from each Center.