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Celebrate the ADA30 (1990-2020) Americans with Disabilities Act - July 26, 2020

On July 26th, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The Washington State Service Dog Association, along with several other organizations, celebrates this landmark event and the important work to promote equal opportunity for people with disabilities. Since the ADA was signed into law 30 years ago, we have seen great progress in the U.S. in housing, employment, public access, and general accessibility for disabled persons. Hundreds of disability advocacy organizations, groups, services, and companies have banded together and interact with their communities to ensure that the rights of disabled individuals do not go without notice. We are so very thankful to all of the advocate trailblazers who’ve fought for our disabled civil rights, some who literally crawled the steps of Capitol Hill to fight for these rights. 

The ADA should have afforded us disability rights- firm laws that are enforced and upheld like any other law, but instead, it has afforded us chances: the chance at equal access, to earn an equal and fair wage, to have equal and fair housing, healthcare, education, voting, and access overall; a chance to experience life in the same ways that our non-disabled peers do. A chance to be seen as human. However, many of these chances are stripped away; there have been many shortcomings and there is still much work to be done. 

Even with the ADA being in place for 30 years, disabled individuals still struggle with their rights being disregarded. We have faced access denials, barriers, lesser wages, upcharges for accessible hotel rooms, denied ride-share trips, denied housing, inaccessible entries, bathrooms, and even websites, etc.- the list goes on and on. With all of our modern technology and the ease of access to the ADA in digital format, one would think that the law would be simple for entities to access, easy for them to follow, and straightforward for them to apply- but in a disabled person’s experience, that can seldom be the case.  More often than not, when speaking about the ADA with employees, managers or business owners, it seems as though the ADA has never crossed their minds or that they have not been trained to follow it. This leaves most disabled persons frustrated, stressed, and usually without accommodations.

The problem with the ADA is that although it is a monumental piece of legislation in the fight for disability civil rights, it has little to zero oversight. This leads to little to zero enforcement. Yes, The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) oversees enforcement of the ADA and has a formal complaint process. With that being said, the claim process has been cumbersome for disabled citizens to utilize, as the results often take months or even years to resolve. It is also far from feasible to file a complaint every time one encounters an ADA violation. Ever been to an establishment with no wheelchair ramp? ADA violation. Denied access with your service animal because the entity, “does not allow pets inside,”? ADA violation. Visited a hotel with no accessible rooms, or, the hotel charges more for accessible rooms? ADA violation. There are a staggering amount of ADA violations that occur every day in the U.S., and filing complaints for all of them could take years, even with combined effort. 

In addition to the ADA, Washington State also has laws preventing discrimination; our state even has a whole government entity tasked with upholding anti-discrimination laws, The Washington State Human Rights Commission (WAHRC). However, it has been the experience of several disabled persons that the WAHRC has not been effective in resolving complaints, and has been a disturbing and shocking experience. In addition to this, when attempting to contact law enforcement to enforce the anti-discrimination laws and/or ‘Layla’s Law’  in WA, people are often told there is no one to respond and instead, to file a claim with the police department. Even after filing claims, many disabled persons do not see any resolution, due to them being “low priority.” This has led to frustration and devastation for many disabled persons, especially service dog handlers. 

In America, there is an outrageous percentage of disabled persons that are caught in a web of cyclical poverty due to several factors, including unfair wages and government disability program restrictions. Additionally, because of the strict requirements of these programs, disabled persons also do not have equal marriage rights. These government programs that many disabled people rely on to survive often take the applicant’s/payee’s spouse’s income into account- rendering many disabled persons ineligible for most of these programs if they were to be (or get) married. This type of inequality has been legally resolved for every other protected class in the U.S. 

So how do we fix the inequality issues most disabled persons still face in this country? In short, we must continue advocating, educating, and having conversations; remaining vigilant in the fight for disabled civil rights is imperative. We need to normalize having conversations with and about disabled persons and our rights in politics, the media, and our own lives. Bringing non-disabled persons into the conversation so that they can help fight for our cause and be a voice is also important. In relation to service dogs specifically, you can take copies of the ADA to local stores, police departments, and schools to help educate business owners, managers and staff. Many handlers have found it helpful to carry and use ADA information cards about service animals to aid in education as well. 

It is estimated that 1 in 4 Americans are disabled, and a disability can occur at any time, any age, for a multitude of reasons- it can happen to anyone. Unlike some people, disabilities do not discriminate. And that reasoning alone is as good as any why it’s so important to get involved and advocate. Maybe in the next 20 years, we can look back at our combined efforts and be even more proud.

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