Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Still Waiting for Equality

By Christina Clift

Christina Clift

On July 26, 1990 in the White House Rose Garden President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA, into law.  This sweeping piece of legislation provided civil rights protections for individuals with disabilities. 

Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided protection to blacks, the Americans with Disabilities Act was meant to level the playing field for individuals with disabilities in the areas of employment, public accommodations, and government. In recent years this trend of providing protections to certain groups of people has continued with rulings by the Supreme Court that protect the rights of same sex couples.  

But can a law really level a playing field?  Can it deliver on the promise that the law embodies?  Can you really legislate morality?  While these types of laws may force people to behave in certain ways, they usually don’t change their hearts and minds.  Civil Rights law can offer compensation to victims, but the law cannot guarantee equality, respect, and acceptance. I’m still waiting and reserving my judgement to see if the ADA continues to assist Americans with disabilities over the next few decades. 

It has only been 26 years and that isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things.  Black Americans still have to fight for equality in education, housing, and employment and the Civil Rights Act was passed 52 years ago.  Neither people with disabilities nor black Americans will have true equality until there is both social and economic justice and equality. We are still a long way from it.  

While the ADA is a good piece of legislation its impact on my life has been brief and at times not very noticeable.  My life has been impacted more by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), than the ADA!  Perhaps the main difference in my life that the ADA has given me is the ability to use paratransit service with MATA.  It gives me freedom and independence in getting to places I want to go. 
I’d like to think that I got my current job based on a great interview and resume, and not because of a piece of legislation.  My access to materials in Braille and other alternative formats is still very limited.  In my opinion, the promise of the ADA is still not kept.  

I will continue to help in the fight to change attitudes and perceptions of people with disabilities in my community.  Laws are the simple fix, but changing attitudes and perceptions, removing barriers, and just doing the daily tasks needed to educate others is the harder work and ultimately the long-term solution.  

On July 26, celebrate what has been accomplished by the passage of this law, but be prepared to continue to wait on its promised reality of true equality.  Thank those who have fought for it and recruit more to carry that fight on.  Don’t forget that a law does not change society and that change does not come easy or quickly to those who wait.  Finally, remember people with disabilities are not the only group of individuals waiting on a law to fulfill an un-kept promise and are struggling for equality. You only have to look behind and in front of you to see the black Americans and same sex couples waging that same battle and waiting for that same promise of equality.