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Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): 23 Years Later

by Vilissa K. Thompson, LMSW

July 26th, 2013 will mark the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a policy that changed the way that individuals with disabilities were viewed and treated in this country.  The ADA was drafted with the intention of shattering the barriers that prevented Americans with disabilities from accessing services and resources (such as healthcare and entrances to businesses) that their able-bodied American counterparts took for granted.  The ADA is regarded as providing the blueprint for the United Nation’s (UN) Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

The Americans with Disabilities Act defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, has a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment.”  There are over 50 million Americans (or 16% of the total U.S. population) living with a disability; the highest percentage of Americans with disabilities are those 65 years of age and older.  Disability types range from those with cognitive or mental impairments to those with ambulatory (or mobility) challenges, visual impairments, and/or needing living assistance.  Those with ambulatory-type impairments make up the largest group, with close to 10 million Americans.

Though the Americans with Disabilities Act was established to create a more equal playing field for individuals with disabilities, there are still enormous gaps in how many Americans with disabilities are employed and have high school diplomas and college degrees, as well as obtaining the quality of life they desire, in comparison to able-bodied Americans.  This month, I will explore what it is like to be an American living with a disability by sharing the life experiences of those I know, including my own experiences, as well as discuss the challenges that still exist 23 years after the ADA was enacted.  The signing of the ADA was a tremendous moment in disability rights history, but more work is needed to ensure that all Americans, regardless of ability, truly have a chance to succeed and prosper in this country.


Below, I wanted to share an infographic that showed how the ADA has impacted the lives of the people of its focus.  Being able to access transportation and having assistive equipment in the home and public facilities greatly affects one’s sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and increases one’s independence.

(Featured photo image:  Courtesy of