This year, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turns 32.

National Disability Institute (NDI) has worked to fulfill the ADA’s promise of economic self-sufficiency for all people with disabilities for the last 17 years. As the first and only national organization focused exclusively on improving financial stability and well-being for people with disabilities, NDI has built a staff of subject-matter experts with diverse backgrounds and lived experiences of disability.

The ADA influences our work.

It also impacts our lives.

As we celebrate #ADA32, NDI staff shares reflections on how the ADA has affected them both professionally and personally.

“My family has greatly benefited from the passage of the ADA. From accessible street crossings with tactile and audible signals, to accessible websites and technology, there are many aspects of the ADA that continue to make mine and my husband’s life easier every day! I am beyond grateful that the ADA creates an equal playing field for people with disabilities.”

 – Ashley Price, Project Coordinator, Financial Empowerment

“The ADA has allowed my daughter to have her service animal with her everywhere she goes to support her disability. This has increased her independence and given her more confidence to go to new places and try new things.”

 – Nikki Powis, Director, Community Navigator Pilot Program

“My beloved dad incurred a mobility disability as he aged due to spinal stenosis. We love going to Bash Bish Falls, but the hike up to the falls was prohibitive to my dad. It’s a long, steep hike and his balance and pain just didn’t allow it. One summer, I called the State Parks Departments for both New York and Massachusetts (the park falls across the state border) to see what their ADA accommodations allow for when a visitor cannot access the falls. The Massachusetts side (shout out to this department) gave me the ranger’s cell phone number and told us to call anytime my dad wanted to see the falls. We would meet the ranger at the parking lot, and he would drive my dad down an access road so his walk to the falls was about one-tenth of what it would otherwise be. This way he could join the family in enjoying the falls. Thank you, ADA!!”

– Elizabeth Jennings, Deputy Director, NDI

“When my grandfather was sick with cancer, the ADA enabled him to maintain much of his active lifestyle. Walking was difficult for him, and access to accessible parking spaces meant that he could park closer both to the medical facilities that were important for his health and to the fun places that were important for his relationship with his granddaughters— places like the ice cream shop, the toy store and the movie theater on the corner. The ADA let my grandfather continue doting on us and making memories for all 15 years of his cancer treatment.

– Elizabeth Layman, Director, Health Equity

The ADA states that “the Nation’s proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals.” One path to achieving these goals is through employment.

The American Dream Employment Network (ADEN) provides technical assistance and training to employment service providers, such as American Job Centers, Employers, Community Rehabilitation Providers and other interested Community Partners, as part of a commitment to advancing the employment goals of Americans with disabilities.

NDI’s Small Business Hub is a Community Navigator Pilot Program, powered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, that works to help aspiring entrepreneurs, and existing business owners with disabilities in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, start, build and grow a business.

The Inclusive Employment Solutions (IES) team at NDI offers technical assistance, tools and resources to support community leaders and Workforce/Human Service system managers, service professionals and others in efforts to improve employment services and outcomes for individuals with disabilities.

“When people are informed that the ADA includes language about people’s right to learn money management skills, they feel like a barrier has been lifted, and they are free to explore financial education and discuss their financial goals within their circle of support. NDI serves a crucial role in defining a clear path for service providers to support people with disabilities towards financial wellbeing; what a great opportunity to be a member of the NDI team!”

– Laurie Schaller, Manager, Financial Empowerment

“I had the opportunity to coordinate the activity of seven (later eight) Iowa state agencies in their work together to support the focus of workforce investment boards in addressing their inclusion of people with disabilities. The anniversary of the ADA each year provided an opportunity for Workforce Investment (Development) Boards to consider progress made and possibilities for the future with our support. The anniversary was always an opportunity for workforce boards to publicly state their commitment to a level playing field and to full inclusion of people with disabilities in employment services.

– Doug Keast, Project Manager

The ADA represents the first set of comprehensive civil rights and protections for people with disabilities in United States. The legislation was passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

“Before the ADA was passed, I was working for United Cerebral Palsy Associations and a member of our staff was Bob Williams. He and I previously worked together for a U.S. senator from Connecticut. Bob’s speech was difficult to understand as a result of being born with cerebral palsy. He used to carry with him, in the basket of his scooter, a green board with letters on it. He would have to point out one letter at a time to form words. That was a very slow process. Although there were already augmentative communication devices available, Bob wanted your undivided attention to follow what he had to say one letter at a time. Bob, eventually, with the help of the Prentke Romich Company, did attend a one-week intensive program to learn how to use their communication device. He realized how liberating it was for him and changed his interaction permanently with everyone he wanted to communicate with. Bob was one of many who lobbied for the passage of the ADA. I share this story because, after the ADA passed, Bob was appointed to multiple high-level positions at the Social Security Administration and then at the Administration on Developmental Disabilities.

Technology made it possible to allow all of us to benefit from Bob’s brilliant thoughts and insights. The ADA made it possible for Bob to be one of the first individuals with significant disabilities to have leadership positions in the federal government, which has become an expectation and the norm some 30 years later.”

– Michael Morris, Senior Strategic Advisor

In the 32 years since the law’s passage, the country has come a long way toward fulfilling the ADA’s promise of equality of opportunity and economic self-sufficiency, but hard work remains to be done.

“Admittedly, the ADA was something I took for granted before having my son in 1997 and most certainly before I began advocating for disability rights in the early 2000s. When a fellow advocate mom and I became friends through our sons, I had the pleasure of driving her to meetings and events because, in addition to raising a son with Down syndrome, she is also blind. We were walking downtown in our community in suburban Chicago, one known as ’the place to live for families with children with ‘special needs,’ when we were crossing a street with the talking crosswalk, and she said, ’Do you know how hard I had to fight to get these things in?’ I found that so disturbing. Such hypocrisy as I looked around with my own eyes at the effort our suburb takes to make things beautiful on the outside while she must fight for talking crosswalks, among other civil rights.”

– Kish Pisani, Project Coordinator

NDI continues to lead by influencing thinking and behavior through pioneering research, advocacy, policy development, training and technical assistance. We envision a society where the ADA’s promise is a reality, and people with disabilities have the same opportunities to achieve financial stability and independence as people without disabilities.

“Over a long weekend in June, I caught up with old friends from college. There was the single mom, using her stock options to put her daughter through college; another friend with her paid-off ranch and a horse for each of her kids; and the guy who just won a McArthur Genius Award. All people with disabilities, all living independent, successful lives. It turns out, inclusion works!”

– Thomas Foley, Executive Director, NDI

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