30th Anniversary of the ADA

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed affording protections to people in the United States living with any form of a disability. It made discrimination based on a disability illegal, in addition to setting a minimum standard for accessibility in public spaces. This year, on July 26th, we will celebrate the 30th anniversary of an act that has been important in the lives of millions of people across the country. Below is a brief timeline of the events that led up to and followed the enactment of the ADA.

1920’s to 19060’s

During the first half of the 20th century, many changes were occurring in our nation. Social programs such as welfare, and later the Social Security Amendment of 1956 that included disability insurance. Advancements in medicine and technology allowed people to live longer and survive diseases that were otherwise fatal. Many veterans came home from the many wars that occurred injured and with some form of a disability. As the number of people living with disabilities grew, it became apparent that there was a great need for reform in the law, something that would grant protections.


The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was a huge first step towards equality that could be considered a model for many later provisions of the ADA. It created programs that offered vocational rehabilitation and independent living. Additionally, it created a federal board responsible for coordinating and checking the level of access to public transportations and buildings. It prohibited discrimination by the Executive Branch and require affirmative action by federal agencies in hiring individuals with disabilities.


The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1974 ended the “separate but equal” mentality held in the education of children with disabilities. It aimed to promote equality in the level of education offered to all children.


The National Council on Disability (NCD) issued the report, Towards Independence. This outlined recommendations for comprehensive legislature that would grant specific protections and opportunities to individuals with disabilities.


An amendment to the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was amended to extend protections to individuals with disabilities.


The National Council on Disability issued the report, On the Threshold of Independence, a progression of legislative recommendations published in Towards Independence nearly three years earlier.


A revised version of the Americans with Disabilities Acts was introduced to the 101st Congress. It was passed by the Senate in a vote of 76 to 8.


On July 26th, 1990, the ADA was signed by George H. W. Bush after being passed by the House.


During 1991, many regulations were issued including: those for Title I of the ADA by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, those for Titles II and II by the Department of Justice, those for transportation regulations in Titles II and III by the Department of Transportation, and those for Title IV by the Federal Communications Commission.


During these three years, Titles I-IV became effect for all companies larger that 15 employees.


During the next decade, many decisions would be made during several cases tried before the Supreme Court. These would dictate the technicalities of the act that should be enforced, setting a common standard


The ADA Amendments Act was Signed (ADAAA), which counteracted many narrow views previously set by the Supreme Court. This was a huge step in legislature that provided crucial protections to millions of people.

Throughout the years since the ADAAA, even more amendments have been made. While these are a great step in granting legal protections, it is also important to remember that the ADA is just a minimum for what should be done to accommodate individuals with disabilities. While we celebrate the past 30 years of advancements in inclusivity, there is always more to fight for. There will be many celebrations, parades, and events around the country where you can go to show your support for the ADA. To see a complete calendar of events, visit the ADA’s website here.


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