DemDaily: In Defense of the Disabled

July 29, 2020

The civil rights movement has had many faces throughout history, but among the lesser known soldiers are Americans with disabilities.

It was not until July 26, 1990 that the first comprehensive civil rights act for people with disabilities, theAmericans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed into law.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation.

Today there are more than 61 million Americans who live with disabilities, representing nearly one-in-four people in this country.

"Father" of ADA, legendary human rights activist Justin Dart (Capitol Lawn protest, 1990)

"Three decades ago, protesters with disabilities converged on the nation's capital to fight for one of the most important civil rights laws in our history - the Americans with Disabilities Act ... these brave protesters ascended the 83 steps of the United States Capitol - some even crawling to get to the top - so they could send a message to their representatives: no American should ever face discrimination based on their disability status." -- former Congressman Tony Coelho (D-CA), ADA Sponsor, and Chair, DNC Disability Council

The goal was to provide disabled American the same protections afforded under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal.

The historic legislation was introduced by Congressman Tony Coelho in the House and Senator Tom Harkin in the Senate, and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990.

The ADA was revised in 2008 under the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) to expand the definition of disabled.

The ADA defines a person with a disability as "a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. This includes people who have a record of such an impairment, even if they do not currently have a disability. It also includes individuals who do not have a disability but are regarded as having a disability."
In October, 2019, the Supreme Court declined to resolve a circuit split as to whether websites are covered by the ADA. The Court turned down an appeal from Domino's Pizza and let stand a US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling which held that the Americans With Disabilities Act protects access not to just brick-and-mortar public accommodations, but also to the websites and apps of those businesses.

Author of the bill, former Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Trump's ADA
Trump and his administration's disregard for the disabled is well documented.

In a November, 2015 campaign speech, President Trump infamously mocked a disabled reporter who has arthrogryposis, a condition that limits joint function.

The American Healthcare Act (AHCA), the Republican's 2017 failed attempt to replace Obamacare, would have made significant cuts to services for the disabled under Medicaid.

In December, 2017, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded ten guidance documents on disability rights that the Justice Department found "unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper."  They included protections against workplace discrimination and standards for service animals and building accessibility.

Barbara Res, who ran construction at the Trump Organization, recalled Trump talking to an architect in a Trump Tower elevator. He asked the architect about the raised dots next to the floor numbers. When the architect explained that they were Braille, Trump shouted, "Get rid of the (expletive) braille. No blind people are going to live in Trump Tower.'

Between 60-80% of polling places are still handicapped inaccessible, despite ADA requirements (James Nielsen/Houston Chronicle)

The same year, Education Secretary Betsy Devos rescinded 70+ guidelines that protected disabled students. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson also scaled-back fair housing laws that resulted in the delay or dismissal of discrimination cases by disabled groups.

In 2018, the then Republican-controlled House passed the ADA Education and Reform Act (HR 620), which removed corporate incentives for adhering to ADA guidelines, and created barriers for victims seeking legal action against offending companies. The bill, however, failed in the Senate, thanks to the the efforts of Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), a wheelchair-bound Iraq War veteran and frequent voice for the disabled.

In 2019, Trump tried to defund the Special Olympics, but after severe pushback from supporters of the popular program, he abruptly reversed himself.

This year, the Trump administration proposed eliminating funding under the Autism CARES Act for training health professionals and developing evidence-based services. The administration has also proposed sweeping changes to the Social Security Disability Insurance program that would redefine the work week and lead to fewer disability benefit awards.

It is ultimately up to the voters to protect the civil and human rights of all people, including those with disabilities.  Let your voice be heard. Vote!

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: Washington Post, Huffington Post, USAToday, ADA National Network, ADAPT, CDC

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