One Laid Groundwork For The ADA; The Other Grew Up Under Its Promises

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tags: disability, Americans with Disabilities Act

Before the Americans with Disabilities Act granted people with disabilities greater protection and accessibility, a little-known law set the groundwork.

In 1977, Judy Heumann helped lead a peaceful protest that forced the government to follow through with Section 504. As part of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the law would force hospitals, universities and other public spaces that received federal money, to remove barriers to accessibility for all Americans. But its implementation was long delayed over the costs necessary to retrofit buildings to comply with the law.

"We were being disregarded, not having ramps, not having accessible bathrooms, not being able to get across the street, not being able to get on buses," Heumann said in an interview with NPR.

"We are not the ones that need to change"

President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law in 1990, expanding disability rights beyond federally funded spaces. People with disabilities could no longer be denied access to jobs, school, transportation, or to public places.

Disability was once seen as a personal health problem. But the ADA essentially argued that one's inability to walk isn't what holds them back, it's that there are stairs that block them from getting into a school, a workplace or a restaurant.

"This law not only can help disabled individuals learn about our rights, but I think also can really foster a sense of dignity and pride within disabled individuals to recognize that we are not the problem, we are not the ones that need to change," Heumann said. "It is the society around us."

Read entire article at Georgia Public Broadcasting