This month we celebrate the anniversary of the second-most important civil rights law in American history behind only the 1964 Civil Rights Act: the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which Congress passed in 1990. But while you might hear this law lauded, you likely won’t hear about the wide-ranging efforts in recent years — mainly by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration — to undermine disability rights.
The attacks are widespread. Numerous Republican attempts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act threatened Medicaid funding that allows people with disabilities to receive in-home care. The Department of Justice is no longer enforcing accessibility requirements for websites or for medical equipment, making accessing online services far more inconvenient for disabled people and making doctor’s visits more of a hassle. The administration even urged the Supreme Court not to hear a case regarding accessible vending machines. These are just some of the most recent setbacks facing disability rights.
One possible reason these efforts aren’t front-page news: they are far from surprising. Disability rights have always been under siege. In fact, every time Congress has passed a law to protect the rights of disabled people, opponents have taken to the courts and the regulatory process to weaken the law, interpret it narrowly and create loopholes.
The result is a separate and unequal system of rights, one that dates to a failed attempt by advocates to include the disabled in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Consequently, in practice, the disabled enjoy far fewer rights protections than other minority groups.