30 Years of Progress, But Still A Ways to Go

This year, apart from being marked by time apart from one another, also marks the 30th anniversary of the passage of the Americans With Disability Act (ADA). The ADA has been instrumental in ensuring that all people can succeed and be included in daily life, regardless of their physical or mental limitations. Yet there is still a long way to go before we reach true equality for all those who are differently-abled.

The ADA has opened the doors wide for school-aged children and adults alike.  It has ensured that they are included in workplaces and schools. The “reasonable accommodation” provision, which is arguable at the core of the ADA, has shown us all just how easy it is to be inclusive, while showing everyone that limitations don’t have to be limitations at all.

Yet there is still a long away to go when it comes to being truly inclusive. Too often, an attempt to enforce your own ADA rights becomes a battle with your company, a process that can cause you to be greeted with lawyers and policy specialists galore. The employer can slow-walk the processing of the ADA request, yet arguably still be responding promptly within the meaning of the law. Or the individual seeking the accommodation may get ignored altogether. And not everyone can afford to get an attorney or raise questions of enforcement in court.

Moreover, the law applies to public entities, requiring that those entities move away from over institutionalization and toward a community health setting. Unfortunately, we have not met that goal in our prisons yet. The numbers show that the prison population is likely to have roughly 17 percent of its population exercising serious mental illness, as opposed to just 4 percent of the general population. And too few prisons are doing enough when it comes to fulfilling their role as a de facto mental health treatment center.

As I said at the beginning of this post, the last 30 years have been marked by considerable amounts of progress and inclusion. Yet there is still a fight that needs to happen for true inclusion of all those battling a serious physical or mental health issue. However, I’m encouraged by the process that has happened, as well as the role some companies have taken when it comes to addressing these challenges. With any luck, this process of progress will continue unabated towards even more inclusion than ever before.


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