The Americans with Disabilities Act Works
By Bob Williams, Associate Commissioner for the Social Security's Office of Employment Support Programs
In 1990, I was privileged to be part of a coalition of people with disabilities, civil rights workers and disability advocates in Washington, DC who, with the tremendous support of thousands of ordinary citizens across America, convinced the Congress to enact the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. One of the most powerful memories of that day was watching, from high in the galleries above the Senate floor, as the bill was signed into law, after years of hard work and debate. I remember watching Senator Tom Harkin, the chief author of the law address his colleagues, the nation, and his brother Frank, not just in spoken words but in American Sign Language as well.
The Senator described how his older brother Frank, who grew up deaf, had to live far away from his family in order to attend a boarding school specializing in education for people who are deaf. He described the discrimination Frank experienced in adulthood, while trying to find a job. It’s an experience that many of us with disabilities in the chamber that day knew well. Senator Harkin then turned the conversation to the future, by dedicating the passage of the ADA to the children born that day, regardless of their disability status. It was then that tears of sorrow and hope flowed most freely.
Over the last 22 years, the ADA has been sweeping in its impact in assuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for Americans with disabilities of all ages, races and regions. Instead of weakening the country as some predicted it might, the ADA is continuing to strengthen America’s core value of individual freedom. Today, due to the ADA and related laws, more students with disabilities are graduating from high school and college. More Americans with significant disabilities are receiving the support they need to live in the community rather than languishing in institutions. Stores, restaurants, businesses, courts, and transit systems are now readily accessible to people with a range of mobility, sensory and other disabilities. The country’s telecommunications, 911 and other emergency preparedness systems are similarly accessible and usable by those with and without disabilities alike. The Internet and other digital technologies are transforming barriers into opportunities in education, employment and many other facets of American life.
President George H. W. Bush declared that the ‘shameful walls of exclusion’ must fall when he signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. Tremendous progress has been made, however to make the promise of the ADA a reality for millions of Americans with disabilities, there is still much work to be done. Barriers to full equality of opportunity persist. This is particularly true with regard to promoting the improved long-term employment, economic self-sufficiency and genuine financial well-being of working age Americans with disabilities and their families.
In an effort to address these discrepancies in employment opportunity, Congress created the Ticket to Work and Self Sufficiency Program. Like the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Ticket program is a work in progress. Since its inception, the program has equipped more than a quarter of million Americans with disabilities with the opportunities, life choices, services and support they need to become and remain competitively employed. Thousands have earned their way off Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, and created better lives and futures for themselves and their families. The ADA and the Ticket are working to improve our country.
To learn more about how Ticket to Work and Work Incentives can work for you or someone you know, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/work or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 (V) or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY/TDD).