Our daily lives are affected by the Americans with Disabilities Act that was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush. The Act changed the way Americans with disabilities lived, allowing them to contribute to their communities in ways previously not possible. We now all benefit from the contributions of disabled people; from making public areas more easily accessible to those with disabilities to better hiring practices. This Act has been compared to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, in that disabled people cannot be discriminated against based on their disabilities, which may be defined as any mental or physical impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.
Parents of children with disabilities may be familiar with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 insures that children with disabilities be provided the same full access to all educational and extracurricular activities provided by their public school. The public school is responsible for identifying students who they believe may have disabilities and notifying their parents as to what the school's efforts will be to accommodate the child's needs. Through evaluations and recommendations of a special team of professionals, including the child's parents, the school is to devise an individualized education program (IEP). The IEP includes which services, modifications and accommodations the child will receive based on their individual needs to ensure the child's fair and equal success in school.
The Americans with Disabilities Act extended section 504 from public schools to most private entities in an effort to ensure that disabled American's rights were protected beyond the school years and into adulthood. In the Fredericksburg area, we see the positive results of this change as we walk down the street, visit a historical site or in the restaurants we frequent. Our sidewalks have level corners to allow wheelchair access and public buildings, like museums, restaurants and libraries have wheelchair access and facilities built to accommodate those with special needs. Even historically significant landmarks and structures are required to make accommodations to the "maximum extent feasible" in order to comply with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (See section 1.2 and 1.3 of Title II for Public entities and accommodations.)
The Americans with Disabilities Act also serves to provide fair employment opportunities to disabled citizens. An employer is forbidden from discriminating against a qualified disabled applicant in hiring. Employers are prohibited from discriminating in career advancement opportunities, compensation, training, or any other employment privileges of a disabled employee. Reasonable accommodations must be made or provided by the employer for known mental and/or physical needs of the employee. (See section 1.1 of Title I from employment under the ADA.)
The law seeks to protect Americans with disabilities in an effort to ensure that all citizens have equal access to education and an equal ability to compete for employment. The Americans with Disabilities Act is integral to allowing all people enjoy and benefit from the company of all people in school, work and society.