When President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, 1990, people with disabilities were given full access to public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation and employment.
This watershed moment was a great and noble idea, but sometimes it’s much easier to create a law than it is to implement and enforce it.
One example comes to mind. Not long after the ADA was enacted, I joined CEO Jim Allsup on a visit to Washington, D.C., where we met with leaders of the disability rights movement. We were there to spread the word about how Allsup could help former workers obtain the Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits they paid for while they were able to work.
But our conversations didn’t stop there. For example, we talked about the confusion regarding the definition of how employers would make “reasonable accommodations” in the workplace for their employees. Just what is reasonable? That discussion continues today.
One day we met independently with two powerful disability rights leaders. The topic was wheelchair curb ramps, and I was surprised to learn that these two men were on opposite—and very vocal—sides of what I thought was a simple issue.
Not so. One man, with paralysis, wanted all street curbs cut to make it easier for other wheelchair users. Makes sense to me, I reasoned. Why not?
Not so fast, a blind man warned me later that same day. Creating curb ramps is extremely dangerous for people who are visually impaired and use long canes, because they are unable to detect streets before stepping into traffic.
Compromises on the construction of curb ramps were eventually made, but the battle for the civil rights of people with disabilities continues.
Allsup has been part of that effort since 1984, some six years before President Bush signed the ADA into law. In the early days, we worked to help qualified people receive SSDI benefits, and we still do.
Today, Allsup Employment Services, Inc., an Allsup subsidiary, also helps SSDI beneficiaries to use these benefits to return to work when they are able to do so.
Efforts to realize the promise and ideals of the ADA continue.