25 years of ADA improve lives of America’s disabled



Twenty-five years ago our nation committed itself to eliminating discrimination against people with disabilities. Sunday marked the 25th anniversary of the signing into law the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA has done much to improve the quality of life for millions of people with disabilities by expanding participation in community life, improving infrastructure, and reducing communication barriers. The law’s protections have and will continue to shape and improve the lives of disabled Americans. 

This celebratory time offers an opportunity to reflect on the ADA’s history and its future potential. The ADA changed the way society views people with disabilities. We think about how a person can be accepted and integrated into our community rather than ways to accentuate their differences. 

The concept of home and community based living would not be making progress without the ADA. The Americans with Disability Act propelled the widespread availability of home and community-based services from a lofty goal, accessible only to those who could afford it, to an expectation. Most people strongly prefer to receive care and services in their homes and communities, as opposed to institutional settings. The ADA gives that preference the legal legs it needs to advance policy and become a reality. 

Twenty-five years ago, the predominance of care for people with disabilities was delivered in nursing homes and large institutions. In 1990, the year the ADA was signed, nearly 100 percent of Medicaid long-term care dollars paid for institutional care, while few dollars were allocated for care where people most wanted it, at home and in their community. Since then the advocacy of individuals and families and organizations such as the LCBDD and other County Boards of DD, ARC and Ohio Legal Rights (Disability Rights Ohio), combined with the legal precedence of the ADA, to advance efforts to modify Medicaid long-term care spending and services away from institutions and towards home and community-based services.

Now, twenty-five years later, nearly half of all Medicaid long-term care spending goes to care at home and in the community. 

People with disabilities should be able to live where they choose, with the people they choose and fully participate in their community. As a result of the ADA and the work of advocates and policymakers, people with disabilities have far more options than ever before. Twenty-five years ago, an adult living with cognitive or physical limitations, and needing assistance with daily living activities, would likely find a nursing home or large institution was there only option. Today, they have greater access to care and services to live in their home, or in a less restrictive less segregated environment, and these services are less costly at home than they are in a nursing facility or developmental center. 

Much progress has been made. More work, however, is needed.  People with disabilities still remain much more likely to be neglected or abused than other citizens. Scarcely 20 percent of people with disabilities are working or looking for work, compared with about 68 percent of people without disabilities. The transition from school to community employment or living is unpredictable. Housing and transportation remain inadequate in many areas. 

 We are called to educate our community to the needs of people with disabilities and we are each called to be friends and allies to those who are vulnerable in our community. 

About the ADA and Olmstead

The ADA, Title II includes a mandate that individuals with disabilities should have the opportunity to live their lives like individuals without disabilities. Nearly ten years into ADA implementation, in a landmark case, Olmstead v. L.C.,8 the Supreme Court held that this mandate prohibits the segregation of individuals with disabilities. Olmstead and the ADA are embodied in the long-term plan for services and supports in Logan County. Here is some background on both:

The ADA has expanded opportunities for Americans with disabilities by reducing barriers and changing perceptions, and increasing full participation in community life. However, the full promise of the ADA will only be reached if we remain committed to continue our efforts to fully implement the ADA.

On the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Logan County Board of Developmental Disabilities celebrate and recognize the progress that has been made by reaffirming the principles of equality and inclusion and recommitting our efforts to reach full ADA compliance.

The Americans with Disabilities Act’s titles encompass protections in the area of: employment, public entities and public transportation, public accommodations, and telecommunications. 

Title I, Employment, establishes an equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities to benefit from employment opportunities by prohibiting discrimination in recruitment, hiring, promotions, and other employment opportunities.

Title II requires state and local governments to offer people with disabilities an equal opportunity to benefit from all programs and services. It also covers public transportation, and requires all public transit services to comply with accessibility

Title III, the Public Accommodations section, prohibits businesses and nonprofit providers from discriminating against people with disabilities. This section also establishes specific architectural standards for new and altered buildings, and requires the removal of barriers in existing buildings. 

Title IV encompasses Telecommunications Relay services for individuals with hearing and speech disabilities. 

Finally, Title V covers miscellaneous provisions, such as the Act’s relationship with other laws.

Nearly ten years after the ADA became law, the Supreme Court issued a decision protecting individuals against unnecessary institutionalization. In the Olmstead case two women who were confined in a Georgia state psychiatric hospital claimed the state’s failure to provide them with a community-based alternative to institutionalization violated the ADA and its implementing regulations mandating community integration. The Court agreed, finding that unnecessary institutionalization of a person with a disability is a form of discrimination under Title II of the ADA. The decision created a significant legal protection for all people in need of long-term care and provided renewed energy for advocates advancing policies designed to shift the provision of long-term care from institutions to home and community-based settings. 

The Logan CBDD recently approved a set of statements proclaiming our values as an agency serving people with developmental disabilities. The key ingredient in these statements emphasis ADA compliance and focuses on community living, community employment and integrated activities. Some of the key quotes in the statements are: “Everyone deserves to live a good life!” “Each person should be a part of their local community and have access to community resources.” “All adults who can work should work…”, “Implementation strategies will be designed to promote and support community employment.”

Saul Bauer is director of the Logan County Board of Developmental Disabilities. He can be reached at sbauer@logancbdd.org.