Twenty-six years ago, protests were happening across the United States regarding the rights of people living with disabilities. Perhaps the most memorable scene of those protests was the capital crawlin which a number of individuals abandoned their wheelchairs, walkers, and crutches, and began pulling themselves up the 78 steps leading to the west front of the capital. This was a powerful display of what they encountered daily without reasonable accommodations to public places. This protest, along with countless others had their desired effect and the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA) was signed on July 26, 1990 by President George H. W. Bush.
As a result of the ADA becoming law, the lives of Americans living with disabilities were rightfully enhanced by equal opportunities to public places, transportation, housing, education, employment, and much more. The 25th anniversaryof the passing of the ADA was recognized this summer with many celebrations, as well as discussions of updates and improvements which are essential to be implemented.
The ADA is not the only Accessibility Legislation in the United States, however. We are fortunate to have legislation related to equal access to all physical, conceptual, and virtual aspects of society for all Americans living with disabilities.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (often referred to as Rehab Act) was technically the first legislation which addressed rights and services for those living with disabilities. The Rehab Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs run by federal agencies, programs that receive federal financial assistance, in federal employment, and in the employment practices of federal contractors.
Sections 504 and 508are arguably the most significant laws for persons with disabilities, today. Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability. It applies to organizations or employers who receive federal dollars, as well as federal agencies, federal projects, schools, state colleges, etc. Section 508, which was amended in 1998, expands on section 504 by stating that the federal government must obtain electronic and IT goods and services which are fully accessible to those with disabilities (specifically the internet). Section 508 is enforced by the Department of Justice (DOJ). In 2000, the United States Board published the first standards of section 508 compliance.
The United States Board is updating its requirements for information and Communication technology covered by Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and Section 255 of the Communication Act. On February 18 of this year, , a proposed rule updating Section 508 standards and the 255 guidelines was released.
Section 255 and Section 251(A) (2) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996which was amended in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires manufacturers and providers of telecommunications equipment and services be accessible to persons with disabilities. Examples of such products and services include cell phones, telephones, call-waiting, and operator services. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforces the Telecommunications Act.
The 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA), 2010, is basically an update of federal communications law to reflect accessibility of persons with disabilities to evolving communications and technology such as “new digital, broadband, and mobile innovations”.
Though technically not a law, the Web Content accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are significant in the United States, as well as around the globe. These guidelines provide standards for accessible web content for individuals, organizations, and international governments. These standards are helping to make accessibility the norm when navigating digital platforms and websites for persons with disabilities.
Some other significant legislation related to accessibility in the United States includes:
- the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) passed in 1997 and reauthorized in 2004, is a law ensuring services to children with disabilities throughout the nation.
- the Fair Housing ACT became law in 1968 and amended in 1988, protects people from discrimination when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for any housing. The prohibitions specifically cover discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability and the presence of children.
- the Air Carrier Access Act became law in 1986 and prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in air travel and requires air carriers to accommodate the needs of passengers with disabilities.
- the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) passed in 1968, requires that facilities designed, built, altered, or leased with funds supplied by the United States Federal Government be accessible to the public.
- the Voting Accessibility For The Elderly and Handicapped Act passed in 1984, requires polling places across the U.S. to be physically accessible to people with disabilities for federal elections. Where no accessible location is available to serve as a polling place, another way of casting a ballot must be made available. This law also requires states to make available registration and voting aids for voters with disabilities and elderly voters.
Be sure to check back for the rest of our blog posts this month which focus on global humanity and accessibility. Posts will focus on the global reach and initiative of accessibility, and individuals perspectives on legislation which has affected their lives.