The Americans with Disabilities Act: 29 Years of Progress (UPDATED 2019)

Americans With Disabilities Act ADA

Access is a RIGHT

If you were a person with a disability living in the U.S. before the 1990’s, you know our society was NOT built with you in mind. This was best reflected in very architecture of our streets and buildings, which were structured in such a way that, unless you were walking, were impossible to navigate. Ramp access was a luxury, braille was barely used, closed captioning was not a requirement, and something as simple as using a public restroom was often a daunting (and dangerous) task. Today, it’s evident that the times have changed for the better. Though things are far from perfect, it’s undeniable that our country is more accessible than it ever was in the past. Many of these changes can be directly attributed to the establishment of a key law known as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA was signed into law by President H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990. And as the anniversary approaches, we would like to explore why this was such an important moment in our nation’s history and how this historic piece of legislation changed the way our country treats disability.

President Bush signing ADA into law
President Bush signing the ADA into law

What’s Actually in the Americans With Disabilities Act?

This law is designed to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. These areas are defined in the titles set forth in the act and are listed as follows:

Title I (Employment)

One of the rights of American citizens is the right to work. This title states that companies of a certain size must make reasonable accommodations to allow any qualified applicant with a disability to perform their essential job functions. This ensures all people have equal access to the same job opportunities.

ADA For some kids, school segregation didn't end in the sixties

Title II (State and Local Government)
Government agencies should serve and be accessible to all Americans. Without access to these public institutions, people with disabilities would not be properly represented in this nation. That’s why this title states that all public transit and government officials should be fully accessible, whether that be through physical access or by providing communication assistance (for people with hearing, vision, and speech disabilities).

Title III (Public Accommodations)

If a private institution claims to be open to the public and is not accessible to people with disabilities, they will find themselves in violation of this statute. This includes places of business such as schools, gyms, retail stores, and doctor’s offices to name a few. It’s thanks to
this title that we see ramp access to restaurants, braille under our elevator numbers, and closed captioning at our movie theaters.

Title IV (Telecommunications)

In our information age of telephones, computers, and the internet, communication has never been a more important part of daily life. This title requires that phone companies and internet providers offer alternate means for usage for people with visual, hearing, and speech-related disabilities.

Title V (Miscellaneous Provisions)

Though the above statutes cover most of our country’s accessibility issues, they can’t be expected to address everything. That’s why this title serves as the final umbrella that covers anything from regulated attorney fees to state’s immunity laws.

Looking Beyond the Law

Easterseals ADA archived photo
Easterseals helping advocate for the ADA law

We hope that after reading this post, you not only have a better understanding of the ADA’s historical significance but also recognize how important it is to our country’s future. Though this law and others have led us to become more accessible as a nation, we must continue to identify what work remains to be done. The United States is at its strongest when all its citizens are contributing to its continued success. One in four Americans has some type of disability, whether that be mental, sensory, developmental, physical, or intellectual as a person with a disability. This underscores the importance of the ADA as it protects the rights of approximately 25% of the US population. To limit such a considerable portion of our citizens from participating in public life would not only be a blot on the face of our democracy but would also weaken us both culturally and industrially.

We must remember, however, that at the end of the day, a law is only words on a page. Words don’t take anyone to work, they don’t help feed you, and they don’t put a roof over your head. That’s why Easterseals New Jersey is proud to support people with disabilities and their families as they live, learn, work, play, and act in their communities. It’s this continued legacy of service that picks up where the law leaves off, doing our part to make sure Americans of all abilities are able to live full and productive lives.

Sources: &

Empowering People With Disabilities Through Empathy

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in four Americans currently live with a disability. This means it is likely that you, someone you know, or someone you will meet has a disability or will develop one later in life. Yet the public is still either uninformed or misinformed about the modern-day obstacles facing persons with disabilities.

With the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and other key pieces of legislation, many barriers to access have been removed from public life. However, we must now move to address the social stigma surrounding this community. This problem cannot be solved by simply building a ramp or installing braille. We must instead work together to change hearts and minds in order to build a more inclusive society for all.

This stigma has had real-world consequences for this population. According to a 2016 survey by Total Jobs, one in four persons who are deaf reported they left their job due to discrimination at their places of employment. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor tells us that of those who were 16 or older, 19% of persons with disabilities were employed compared to 66% of those without a disability. These are not problems of “access,” they are problems of “perception” and perception can only be changed by increasing our capacity for understanding and empathy.

That’s why, to mark our 100th anniversary this spring, Easterseals New Jersey will be holding several pop-up events throughout the state we are calling “Exercises in Empathy.” At these events, people will be walked through short experience-based activities to learn more about disability. Activities include a limited mobility art station, a lip-reading exercise, a schizophrenia and depression experience, as well as a vision-loss/Usher syndrome activity.

Sharing in these experiences allows us to become more aware of not just the challenges having a disability can present, but how people overcome those challenges. This can be a powerful tool in removing the stigma surrounding disability. This shift in thinking is critical as we work together to build a more inclusive New Jersey.

We encourage you to experience our pop-up events. Visit for more information and to learn how you can help create a future where everyone is 100% included and 100% empowered.

Brian Fitzgerald
President/Chief Executive Officer
Easterseals New Jersey

Disability Emojis Bring Us Emojoy!

Disability Emojis

Inclusive Disability Emojis? Yes, please

Inclusive disability emojis are on their way! Everything from prosthetics to service dogs will be represented in these fun new icons. In recent history, emoji’s were released that allowed for representation of multiple skin tones, but there are still limited options available for persons with disabilities. This oversight will be corrected with an impressive variety of new images. The community of persons with disabilities is vast so it would be expected that this first wave of emojis would be limited in what populations they would represent. We have to say that this release exceeded these expectations and is deserving of praise and attention.

Disability Emojis
Some emojis being released are not disability related, but were included in this sample.

We are unsure when this will be released, but as soon as we find out, we’ll update this article. Wheelchair users, blind-low vision, deaf and hearing loss, and prosthetic users will find these icons incredibly useful as soon as the update is implemented. Mobile technology has been a boon to the community of people with disabilities, allowing for increased community connection and even being used as accessible technology (Be My Eyes, Text To Speech, etc.). Having the technology itself also feature communication tools that are representative of those using them, only makes sense and is a welcome change.

Disability Emojis

Representation Matters

We’ve spoken before about the importance of representation for persons with disabilities and special needs in our media and these emojis are no different. Emojis are a staple of digital communication whether they are being used when texting or engaging on social media. Now imagine circling through the selection of emojis and seeing robots, aliens, and even the infamous “poop emoji,” yet you can’t find an emoji that represents you as a human being. What kind of message is that sending to the user? Not a very positive one. So these new icons will be a welcome addition to the roster.

Do you have any suggestions on how electronic communications could be made more accessible? Let us know in the comments below. And as always, if you’re seeking services, visit our main website.

Upsides and Bird Boxes – The Disability in Film Conversation Continues…

Disability in Film

Disability in film isn’t a new topic, but recent films have taken on the subject matter both in positive and not-so-positive ways. We’ve had Bird Box, The Upside, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, and others. Television has also joined in with such shows as Speechless, Atypical, and The Good Doctor. We’re happy to see these projects come out and hope more will follow to help further expose people to the world of disability. Still, not all exposure is good exposure and we want to make sure we point out what’s working and what isn’t so we can all learn from these issues moving forward. For the purposes of this article, we’d like to focus on the two most recent films to be released, The Upside and Bird Box, to help us explore this topic of representation of persons with disabilities and special needs in our media.

Read moreUpsides and Bird Boxes – The Disability in Film Conversation Continues…

100 Years of Changing the Way the World Views and Defines Disabilities

Easterseals is 100 Years Young

In 1919, Edgar Allen founded a service organization that eventually became known as the National Society for Crippled Children which eventually became Easterseals. He discovered that people with disabilities were hidden from the public eye due to a lack of support in their communities. He wanted to change all that.

Read more100 Years of Changing the Way the World Views and Defines Disabilities

Disability and Winter Weather: Top 5 Tips When Stuck Inside During New Jersey Blizzards

Disability and Winter Weather

Let’s face it, winter in New Jersey isn’t always a wonderland. This is true for every resident, including those who have disabilities or have a child with a disability or special need. Disability and winter weather don’t always mix.

Disability and the winter weather

Read moreDisability and Winter Weather: Top 5 Tips When Stuck Inside During New Jersey Blizzards

Disability / Sensory Friendly Santa is Coming to New Jersey!

Sensory Friendly Santa

Disability / Sensory Friendly Santa is Coming to Town!

We recently highlighted a story on about sensory friendly Santas holding events that are designed to be accessible for young persons and adults with disabilities. If you have ever attended a traditional gathering of jolly ole’ Saint Nick at your local mall or community center, you will remember the long lines, loud noises, and Santas that might not be exposed to the special needs population. This is usually NOT a sensory/communication friendly experience, but these Santas are looking to change all that.

Read moreDisability / Sensory Friendly Santa is Coming to New Jersey!

Success Story: Mature Worker Goes From Unemployed to a Six-Figure Salary

Mature Workers

It’s a line we hear all too often from hucksters, schemers, and con-men:

“You can go from rags to riches by buying my book and learning my money making secrets!”

They make promises of earning a six-figure salary in 6 months if you give them your money and listen to their advice. We of course know these are scams. But what if I told you I had a story about someone who enrolled in an Easterseals New Jersey program, spent $0 to do so, and ended up leaving the program with a $100,000 salary for a 40/hr. a week job – in under six months? Would you believe me? You should.

Read moreSuccess Story: Mature Worker Goes From Unemployed to a Six-Figure Salary

Untapped Workforce? It’s Time to Start Hiring People with Disabilities

Untapped Workforce of People with Disabilities

People with Disabilities: The Untapped Workforce

In America today, we have a strong economy and unemployment is at an all-time-low. Companies are hiring, and have even expressed difficulty filling all their open positions. Now is the perfect time to start offering these employment opportunities to people with disabilities and special needs.

There is an unfounded misconception (emphasis on MISconception) that people with disabilities cannot work effectively.

Read moreUntapped Workforce? It’s Time to Start Hiring People with Disabilities