The Americans with Disabilities Act Turns 25: What’s the New Frontier for Accessibility?
This Sunday, July 26, 2015, marks the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. On that day, I’ll be flying back from Washington, DC after attending a celebration of the ADA anniversary with my friends and former colleagues from the Department of Justice. Upon reflection, it’s amazing how much has changed over 25 years for people with disabilities.
It was almost exactly 23 years ago that I started working at the Justice Department in the newly created “Office on the Americans with Disabilities Act.” I was the fourth attorney to be hired in what would eventually become one of the largest sections in the Civil Rights Division. I would spend the next 12 years working on ADA cases. It was a brand new law and everything we did had far-reaching effects. As a young attorney, it was the best job I could have ever hoped for. For instance, in one of my later settlement agreements, I asked for an accounting of how many people the settlement affected. Both the defendant and I were shocked by the numbers. In just six months, our settlement opened the doors of their company to over 5,000 people for whom those doors would have otherwise remained shut. I suppose it wasn’t surprising that that defendant turned around from dragging its heels to becoming a champion of disabilities in its industry.
Yes, the ADA really does make a difference.
Last Monday, President Barack Obama commemorated the ADA anniversary. He commented that the ADA makes all of America great. I was struck by how it brought together right-minded people across the politic spectrum. The President noted that it was former President George H.W. Bush who signed the law and it was efforts by another Republican (Senator Bob Dole) and two Democrats (Tom Harkin and Tony Coelho) who made it a reality. President Obama also spoke about the anniversary as an opportunity to not only celebrate our history, but also a chance to rededicate ourselves to the future, to address the injustices that still linger, and to remove the barriers that still remain.
For me, web and mobile accessibility are the new frontiers for accessibility. These technologies make life infinitely easier for everyone but particularly for people with disabilities— if they are designed with accessibility in mind. It is ironic to me that these newer technologies can sometimes pose enormous challenges to the one group who have the most to gain from them—people with disabilities. Furthermore, overcoming technological barriers (through solutions like captioning, speech recognition, or speech output) also makes these technologies so much more useful to everyone, regardless if they have a disability or not. These are challenges that we again must be uniting to confront. For just as the last 25 years have been remarkable in breaking down these older barriers, our future must be remarkable for breaking down the new ones.
If you are struggling with how to ensure you comply with Web accessibility standards, read our Guidance at a Glance: Web Accessibility white paper.