ADA 30 Years Later – The Call to Action Awaits


A mural in Chicago, Illinois. Photo courtesy of Natalia PozueloArbide

Natalia Pozuelo-Arbide, Staff Reporter

This is the first part of a two-part series on the Americans with Disabilities Act. Read the second part here.

Nowadays, turn on the TV or scroll through your phone, and you see the latest headlines of our nation’s chaos ricocheting across our communities. The memes of “my plans vs. 2020” couldn’t be more accurate. Nevertheless, despite these bizarre times, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded people to appreciate the little things in life and, in the words of Dr. Anthony Fauci, “be cautiously optimistic” so your expectations are not crushed by reality. What better way to stay optimistic than by reminiscing on happy memories? This isn’t a new idea. Organizations use the marketing tactic of celebrating their brand’s anniversary to engage consumers in a call to action –– AKA shopping. 

This works outside of the marketing field, too. For example, communities celebrate anniversaries to remind us of what we’ve accomplished and communicate the success still to come. Just like brands, community leaders use anniversaries as a call to action for their members to achieve a mission. 

The U.S. recently celebrated an anniversary, reminding us of an accomplishment and the call to action going forward. On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the American with Disabilities Act, ADA. This legislation provides disabled individuals with civil rights, ensuring they have equal opportunity. Rights that many take for granted, such as being able to ride a bus, be employed, or attending a university class. 

The ADA serves as a model of what seems to be the unthinkable right now, bipartisan cooperation to achieve groundbreaking legislation. And politics aside, many can agree the 30th anniversary of the ADA is not only a reminder on how we must treat the disabled community but a reminder that we must regulate all organizations to enforce a disabled individual’s civil rights. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five Americans has a disability. In other words, the largest minority group in the U.S. is the disabled.

And yes, the ADA has helped this minority group to dismantle discrimination and create corridors of success that were once nonexistent to them. In fact, thanks to disability activists, a call to action urged government officials to focus on the disability movement. In 1988, congressman Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi) and Tony Coelho (D-California) first introduced the ADA legislation to the House and Senate floor. Lennard J. Davis, a professor of disability studies and english at the University of Illinois at Chicago, states in his book Enabling Acts, “One would assume that with a Democratic House and Republican Senate, the bill might have had chance…[M]ost members of Congress had no idea that disability was a civil rights issue.” 

Consequently, action was taken, committees were formed, dialogues were exchanged, and, slowly but surely, Capitol Hill became determined to implement a law that would serve the disabled. Thirty years later, it is thanks to the ADA that more and more people today are willing to share their disability and advocate for their rights. 

Even so, as with all anniversaires, we have to remember there is more to come. Marketers ask, what incentive does the consumer get? Meanwhile, government legislators ask, what is the incentive for my constituents? As for the ADA, there is still work and incentives to be achieved. At the 2006 first United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, ambassadors proposed, “What are the current trends and prospects for greater inclusion?” Today, this question is still addressed by the American Association of People with Disabilities (AADP), a cross-disability rights organization, who advocate for full civil rights for millions of Americans with disabilities by providing equal opportunity, economic power, independent living, and political participation. The AAPD’s call to action insists that we, as a nation, need to work towards a sweeping wave of change for a more equitable and inclusive America. Of course, like any change or goal in life, steps are to be taken. That is to say, the ADA asks us to reflect on how we can represent the disabled in all ecosystems of society. Similar to marketers, disability activists must transmit a message, a narrative in the media, demanding and educating others on the importance of enforcing disability civil rights.