July 26, 1990: President G.H.W. Bush signs the Americans with DisAbilities Act (ADA) on the South lawn.
At the ADA Signing ceremony, here’s what he said: “[This] will guarantee fair and fullest access to the fruits of American life… Together, we must remove the physical barriers that we’ve created, and the social barriers that we have accepted.”
The ADA of 1990 filled in the gaps that the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 left untouched. The Rehab. Act mandates that all Federally-funded programs fully include people with disAbilities (Title V, Section 504), and that all programs receiving over $10,000 (Title V, Section 503) affirmatively hire, retain and promote individuals with disAbilities. (Most of our local governmental services fall under the Rehabilitation Act regulations.)
But this didn’t bring people with disAbilities into the marketplace, into businesses, into many apprenticeships, nonprofit organizations and it also didn’t apply to many transportation and communications services.
The ADA changed that and is still changing the landscape of America so that people with disAbilities can find a vet, get a haircut, and shop at the local markets. But there were still gaps.
In 1998, Congress amended the Rehabilitation Act to require Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. Section 508 was strengthened, so that all Federal agencies coordinate accessible formats when they develop, procure, maintain, or use electronic and information technology.
Yet these comprehensive laws and regulations, to be effective, must still be monitored and enforced.
To put the progress of civil rights awareness for people with disAbilities into perspective, we can think about the fact that many people using adaptive mobility aids still can’t sit at lunch counters- and are still being told where to sit on the buses!
In fact, many public and elected leaders and deciders still blatantly disregard the rule of law. Here’s a recent example: In the first week of May 2008, Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone placed a “Welcome Desk” in the foyer of City Hall that utterly disregards MA Access Building Code.
Curtatone crowed, “The Welcome Desk is an important step in our commitment to providing accurate, courteous, easy customer service to our residents, and to making our government more open and accessible… Our approach was to ensure that residents and visitors receive the best customer service available… to save constituents time and money.”
Yet, we now have a new “360 degree service” that’s well over a foot too high for about 9,000 Somerville residents.
It seems that yesterday’s design standards are as tenacious as yesterday’s attitudes, even today: the 18th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
35.6 HEIGHT OF TABLES OR COUNTERS
The tops of accessible tables and counters shall be from 28 inches to 34 inches (28″ to 34″ =
711mm to 864mm) above the finish floor or ground.