July 26 was the 30th anniversary of President George H.W. Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which, broadly, “prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunication.” Currently, more than 40 million people in the United States are living with a disability, and this act helps ensure that this group of people has equal access to parks, jobs and even public restrooms.
In ARC’s 10-county region, 9.3 percent of the area’s 4,462,847 non-institutionalized population are disabled. The map below shows how this plays out by county and Census tract, with pop-up windows showing the total population and the number of residents younger than 18, age 18 to 64 and age 65 and older who are disabled.
Passage of the act, of course, does not mean that all has been smooth sailing since. It’s taken a Supreme Court ruling invoking the ADA to help those in institutionalized settings transition out of institutions in a timely manner. The disabled community also experienced higher rates of unemployment prior to the current economic crisis, and today’s economic environment has only worsened that. And it’s no secret that the passage of a law does not automatically end discriminatory practices. During the current COVID-19 crisis, people with disabilities, their attorneys and advocates have had to invoke the ADA for everything from equal access to life-saving ventilators to adequate support providers during hospital treatment. The Americans with Disabilities Act clearly laid a strong foundation for disability rights that continues to support the efforts of advocates and activists 30 years later.