Marking the 32nd Anniversary of The Americans with Disabilities Act
By Attorney Lawrence Berliner July 26th, 2022
The ADA, a landmark law, was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. This federal law prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life including employment, schools, colleges, transportation, access to businesses, telecommunications, and all public and private places of public accommodations that are open to the general public.
In Connecticut we have to thank Senator Lowell Weicker for recognizing the limits of the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in protecting the rights of people with disabilities. The proscriptions against disability-based discrimination in Section 504 were limited to recipients of federal funding. After holding a series of hearings both in Washington and here in Connecticut, Senator Weicker initially proposed expansive legislation that would eventually become known as the ADA. After Senator Weicker lost his seat in the U.S. Senate, the task fell to other members of Connecticut’s Congressional delegation, including all of our U.S. Representatives and Senators Dodd and Lieberman, along with other Senators from other states such as Senators Tom Harkin, Edward Kennedy, and Bob Dole who spearheaded the efforts to have the U.S. Senate consider the legislation. There were many in the House of Representatives, including Representatives Coelho, Hoyer, and Owens, who also took up the cause to advance the civil rights of people with disabilities to ensure access to all aspects of American society including access to public buildings, government services, commerce, transportation, higher education, employment, technology, and that newly constructed buildings would be accessible and useable to people with disabilities. This list goes on even today.
As President Bush noted on July 26,1990, “Today, America welcomes into the mainstream of life all of our fellow citizens with disabilities. We embrace you for your abilities and for your disabilities, for our similarities and indeed for our differences, for your past courage and your future dreams.… And now I sign legislation which takes a sledgehammer to another wall, one which has for too many generations separated Americans with disabilities from the freedom they could glimpse, but not grasp. Once again, we rejoice as this barrier falls for claiming together we will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America…And on your behalf, as well as the behalf of this entire country, I now lift my pen to sign this Americans with Disabilities Act and say: Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”
While we can pause for a moment to celebrate the 32nd anniversary of the ADA, however, we cannot pause in our efforts to ensure that all of the promises of the ADA are realized each day through our zealous advocacy, to ensure that adults and children with disabilities have the realization of the promise of equal access to all aspects of their communities, and they will have the same opportunities to contribute to, participant in, and take their rightful place in American society.
While we take stock of the ADA’s accomplishments during the past thirty-two years, there is more work ahead to ensure that the full promise of the ADA reaches all Americans with disabilities, so we as a nation can enjoy the valuable contributions that all citizens add to this country. Just imagine where our country and the world would be today if we did not have people with disabilities such as Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Temple Grandin, Helen Keller, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Marlee Matlin, Christopher Reeve, Itzhak Perlman, Stephen Hawking, Richard Branson, Jim Abbott, Casey Martin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or Nelson Rockefeller, each contributing in their own way to advancements in industry, business, science, arts, music, sports, literature, and/or government. There are countless others who have contributed to the betterment of society because they were not being locked away or excluded from participating in our society on the basis of their disability.
As a special education law attorney who has championed the rights of people with disabilities under state and federal law, I had had the privilege and opportunity of working with Senator Weicker’s staff and disability rights advocates while I was employed as an attorney at the State of Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities, where I advocated each day for the rights of children with disabilities in public and private schools, assisted students in colleges and universities, and helping individual access housing, and obtain state and local government services. In my private law practice, since 2011, I have continued my legal advocacy promoting the rights of people with disabilities. I believe that I have been able to make a meaningful difference in the lives of many individuals and families due the ADA, along with other federal laws, and the enactment of progressive state legislation by Connecticut’s General Assembly, including the 1984 Equal Rights Amendment to the Connecticut Constitution that protects the rights of individuals with disabilities.
With 39 years of experience representing and advocating for children, adults, and families with special needs, I have passionately focused my law practice on special education law, disability law, and legal advocacy for individuals with disabilities. The work of the ADA is not finished and so I will continue to fight for the rights of people with disabilities facing the evolving challenges. While our work is not complete by ensuring equal and effective access to all aspects of our society, we can pause and celebrate the ADA’s accomplishments during the past thirty-two years, as we prepare to face new challenges brought about by the COVID-19 health emergency.