2015 has been a year of anniversaries. Awareness anniversaries to be exact.
Marking these anniversaries is important for several reasons. It’s important to know the history of how the people in our community have been treated, but it’s also important to know why people have been treated like they have and what can be done to make their lives better.
That’s why the Americans with Disabilities Act and National Disability Employment Awareness Month are both very important to those with disabilities.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 25 in July. Some people may be surprised that the ADA is so young—many assume that those with disabilities have been protected from discrimination for much longer, but the act was only passed in 1990. The National Council on Disability had prepared a draft of the ADA four years earlier, but the bill wasn’t introduced until 1988, and then Congress took two years before it was finally signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.
The ADA is similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in that it makes discrimination based on ability illegal in much the same way that the Civil Rights Act made discrimination based on religion, race, etc. illegal. The ADA also specifies that employers must provide reasonable accommodations to their disabled employees. This may include things like making wheelchair vans available to those who are required to travel for their work or adding ramps to all building entrances. The act also requires that public accommodations be accessible to all.
In its 25 years, the ADA has opened up public buildings, made common tasks such as crossing the street much safer, and more. It has established that everyone, no matter his or her abilities, deserves to be treated equally. While some disparities do remain, there’s no doubt that the ADA has greatly improved life for people with disabilities.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month
While the ADA has set down legal requirements for accommodating those with disabilities, National Disability Employment Awareness Month aims at making everyone aware of the challenges that those with disabilities face on a daily basis. It was actually implemented two years before the ADA. Congress declared October to be a time to raise awareness for employees with disabilities in 1988.
National Disability Employment Awareness Month builds on the National Employ the Physically Handicapped Week event that was observed starting in 1962. This event was slated for the first week of October, but by the late 1980s, many felt that it was poorly named and that it no longer served its purpose. The month of awareness was implemented to help employers and employees understand the needs of those with disabilities, but also understand how they can contribute to the business. In addition to shining a spotlight on what the disabled may need to reach their full potential, this month of awareness focuses on what they have done despite the fact that they may have a disability.