A Very Special Independence Day for Americans with Disabilities

iStock_000001098064_webThe Fourth of July is a day to remember and celebrate our independence and the many freedoms that come with it. This year it is particularly meaningful for Americans with disabilities, as the 25th anniversary of the ADA will be celebrated on July 26.

Although the ADA has not been around for very long, activists fought for disability rights at least since the early 1900s. A good example of this was Helen Keller, known to many as the blind and deaf protagonist of “The Miracle Worker.” Keller did much more than that, however. She fought for the inclusion of people with disabilities, particularly those who were blind or visually impaired. The disability rights movement that eventually led to the passage of the ADA started in the 1960s, when people with all types of disabilities began advocating for equal access and opportunity.

The ADA has had a positive impact for people with disabilities in the United States. Braille signs on elevator and restroom doors and audio announcements on public transportation give blind and visually impaired people more independence when we’re out and about. Independence can mean a lot of things to different people. For those of us with disabilities, the ADA has given us the freedom and independence to go shopping, to restaurants, the movies, etc.

I have family in Mexico, so I often travel there. Each time I visit, I’m reminded that Mexico and many other countries still have a ways to go regarding disability rights and accessibility. Uneven sidewalks and very few ramps make it difficult, even impossible, for people who use wheelchairs or have other mobility impairments to get around. Lack of audio announcements on public transportation make it difficult for people with visual impairments to know where to get off. Naturally, this contributes to a greater lack of opportunity and even isolation of those with disabilities in other countries.

While there are still many accessibility and attitudinal barriers to break down in the United States, not to mention a still disproportionately high unemployment rate, the ADA has certainly opened a lot of doors to those of us with disabilities. Personally, I am grateful to live in a country and era in which I have the opportunity to be independent and free. Furthermore, I consider myself fortunate to be employed and as a result contribute to society thanks to this legislation.

We should appreciate our independence and freedom every day, not just on the Fourth of July. This way we will hopefully break down the barriers that still remain for Americans with disabilities.

How has the ADA allowed you to be more independent? For readers with disabilities in other countries, what has been done to give people with disabilities more accessibility and equal opportunities? Please comment with your answers! Happy Fourth of July to everyone, and enjoy the holiday!!

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