What is the ADA?

What is the ADA?


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the first comprehensive civil rights act for people with disabilities signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. Based upon the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this federal law protects the rights of people with disabilities. 


The ADA is about equal access to care and services and freedom from discrimination in employment, state and local government, public accommodations (e.g., restaurants, stores, hotels, and places of entertainment), and transportation. It helps to “level the playing ground” so everyone can have access.


Why is the ADA Important?  

The ADA has empowered people with disabilities by banning discrimination because of their disability and by making it possible for them to live independently, control their own lives, have the freedom to choose how to live and participate in their communities. When the environment, programs and services are accessible, it helps everyone. Curb cuts in sidewalks are the most concrete (pun intended) example of a feature designed to be accessible for wheelchair users that makes life easier for everyone.


Because of the ADA People with Disabilities Can:


  • park in an accessible parking space that has an access aisle
  • independently enter and leave government buildings, voting locations, restaurants, movie theaters and other businesses
  • request a reasonable accommodation in their workplace
  • have assistance with phone calls through a relay service
  • have an interpreter if needed for effective communication


Although there have been significant changes since the ADA was passed in 1990, people with disabilities continue to encounter barriers that affect their ability to live, work, and recreate freely in their communities. The ADA is a living document, and policies, practices and procedures continue to develop. Ongoing vigilance and advocacy continue to ensure that these hard-fought-for rights continue to be implemented well.


Definition of Disability


The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability. The ADA also makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person based on that person’s association with a person with a disability.


ADA History


ADA National Network


Disability History

National Museum of American History


History of Disabilities Webinar Series 
Hosted by the Southeast ADA Center and The Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University. 

On May 12, BBI Chairman Peter Blanck was featured on "Story in the Public Square," public affairs television series, PBS podcast and SiriusXM Satellite radio. Link to the show with Peter Blanck. While the Americans with Disabilities Act has improved the lives of many since it became law nearly three decades ago, Peter Blanck tells us the history and the ongoing challenges for those with disabilities can be stark.