The Americans with Disabilities Act: The Saga Continues

Posted by The Arc of North Carolina

Written by: Bryan Dooley 

Last month marked the 28th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I’m sure there was a celebration going on wherever you are reading this. I hope you attended one of those events because the passage of the ADA is worth celebrating. The story of how the law passed is still inspiring to me because it exemplifies what a country is supposed to do when we try and solve problems as a society. There was a vigorous debate about what the bill would entail, and of course, both parties had their partisan ideas. Due to work that was done by people inside and outside of the government, it became a bipartisan effort. It was supported by ideologically diverse politicians such as Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, Bob Dole and many more. The ADA was ultimately signed into law on July 26, 1990, by President George H.W. Bush.

The signing ceremony for the ADA was one of the most extensive bill introductions ever held, and it allowed many people with disabilities to travel to Washington D.C. to view it. I was not one of them, as I was a few months old at that time. I have never known the world without the protection that the ADA provides. That is one of the main reasons I have so much gratitude towards the self-advocates who came before me and helped pave the way for disability rights. It’s also why I chose to study and emulate their leadership. I don't think that there is any question that the ADA has worked in various ways.

Even with the success of the ADA, there are many current problems. I feel like a broken record, as I’ve written several blogs on this topic, but employment is an ongoing issue for many people with disabilities (including myself). Many of the programs that were designed to help people with disabilities procure gainful employment do not work, and I’m not afraid to say that because I am part of a chorus of advocates who say the same thing. Many of us have tried to be self-employed, and I can say from experience that it’s tough to create your own high paying job. I am proud of the opportunities I've earned and experienced. Although I must say that all the cool advocating that I've been doing over the last several years has yet to garner me a steady income that meets my needs.

In the coming years, there are going to be both opportunities and challenges regarding disability rights. There are going to be more people with disabilities as the baby boomer generation acquires disabilities of their own. That reality will put pressure on the services that all people with disabilities, on some level, rely upon. We already have a shortage of personal care assistants because their jobs are low paying often resulting in a high turnover rate. Trust me; these problems only scratch the surface.

I’m currently involved in a project called the NC Empowerment Network (NCEN), as our first Acting Chair. We are hard at work building a strong foundation to become the state’s fourth member of the Developmental Disabilities (DD) Network as well as being an active and reliable partner to the various self-advocacy groups across North Carolina. It’s become apparent how important the self-advocacy voice is, as we see questionable policy from state and federal levels of government. We have just seen what many people consider an attack on our Title III rights of the ADA which guarantees equal access to public accommodations (such as restaurants, movie theaters, etc.). We dodged a real bullet when the Senate refused to consider the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, which would have added a lot of unnecessary hoops for people with disabilities to jump through.

Although our elected officials mean well, some policies and laws can negatively affect individuals with disabilities and their families. That’s where self-advocates and our allies come into play. Even the best representatives can’t learn everything they’re responsible for knowing. Self-advocates can help guide the way to better policy.

A personal story remains the best tool we have to make a change in policy. Once we have the foundation built, the NCEN plans to train other self-advocates how to tell our story most persuasively. In the coming months, we’ll be able to welcome more and more strong advocates like you.

I began this blog by discussing how I see myself as following in the footsteps of the many great self-advocates who came before me. Consider this your invitation to walk or roll in those same footsteps as we all work together to strengthen the work of self-advocacy throughout the state of North Carolina.