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July 26 is the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) Most provisions came into effect two years later. As I reflect on this period of time and the promises that I heard President Bush give us as he signed this bill, I wonder if anything has significantly changed. He talked about the shameful walls of discrimination tumbling down. He talked about equal access to public services, businesses, and employment.

Sure, new buildings are usually built with wheelchair access to the front door. That’s a minimum expectation these days. But I still see plenty of businesses that don’t have the right kind of accessible parking, or signage, or tables that I can use.

Doors are a huge problem for many of us with physical disabilities. The ADA didn’t change that. Some are so heavy that I can’t even get them open. And for the record, the ADA does not require power door openers (unfortunately.)

How about employment? It looks to me like the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities is virtually unchanged since the start of the ADA. One study indicated that during the recent recession, people with disabilities were laid off at twice the rate of people without disabilities. What’s wrong with that picture?

When I think back to the pre-ADA days, I will admit there’s been progress. But far too often I see basic accessibility issues ignored. I see people not taking the time to make sure that their communication is accessible to everyone, and I know that there are a lot of barriers to employment that don’t need to exist. One issue that is rising again is the right of people with disabilities to live in the least restrictive environment.

As a person who has been witness to the ADA from the moment it was signed, I say it is a promise yet to be fulfilled.

Nate Aalgaard, Executive Director

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