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30 years after ADA’s passage, what it means to these Americans with disabilities

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a groundbreaking law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. The legislation has been invaluable for what it changed, but significant obstacles remain for Americans with physical or mental impairments. We hear some of their views on the ADA -- and what challenges they still face.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a groundbreaking law that prohibits discrimination based on disability.

    The legislation has been invaluable for what it changed, but significant obstacles still exist for those who have physical or mental impairments of any kind.

    When President George H.W. Bush signed the law in 1990, it guaranteed new protections for work, education, access, and transportation, among other rights. Many of the physical accommodations that are now commonplace only came to pass after the ADA became law.

    In fact, as seen in the Netflix documentary "Crip Camp," it took longer to guarantee these basic civil rights than it did for other groups, including black Americans, Latinos and Asians.

    And a generation of advocates took to the streets to demonstrate and protest through the 1970s and 80s. But even after all of this time, the challenges for people with disabilities remain enormous. Just 32 percent of working-age Americans with disabilities have a job. People with disabilities also live in poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities.

    We're going to explore these questions more in a moment.

    But, first, the "NewsHour" spoke with a number of Americans and asked them to reflect on what it means to live with a disability today.

  • Britney Wilson:

    My name is Britney Wilson. I'm from Brooklyn, New York. I'm a disabled civil rights attorney. I have cerebral palsy.

  • Bill Krebs:

    My name is Bill Krebs. I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I am a person with a disability myself. You may not know it. It's a hidden disability.

  • Elizabeth Bostic:

    My name is Elizabeth Bostic. I am first and foremost the proud parent and humble servant of king James. He has a rare disease called Kernicterus, which is caused by severe jaundice at birth.

  • Jen Deerinwater:

    I'm Jen Deerinwater. I'm a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma. I'm also bisexual, two spirit, and I am multiply disabled with chronic illnesses.

  • Alice Wong:

    My name is Alice Wong. And I'm a disabled activist in San Francisco.

  • Max Barrows:

    My name is Max Barrows. I am a person on the autism spectrum. I speak up for people with disabilities throughout the state.

  • Britney Wilson:

    I think it's safe to say that my life wouldn't be anything that it is right now, because the ADA literally gave me my rights as a disabled person.

    The fact that I was able to attend law school and receive accommodations and to be employed as an attorney, but I think also as a civil rights lawyer in particular, I know the limitations of the law. And that's what ADA is.

    At the end of the day, it's just a statue. It gave us the bare minimum, which is our rights. And rights are not anything if they are not enforceable.

  • Bill Krebs:

    Well, before that, the ADA, kids like myself were segregated in school. We didn't have no education. We were never heard, never seen, never did anything.

    Employment was the hardest thing for people with disabilities. We were placed in shelter workshop programs, where we just sat there and did nothing. We did some minimum wage jobs. We may have made a whole dollar. Wow.

    I was there for 10 years of my life. I thought, as a person with a disability, I would go nowhere. So, I started being a self-advocate.

  • Elizabeth Bostic:

    When I think about ADA, the key word for me is access.

    And that, coupled with a number of other disability laws, really gave everyone the ability to have access to whatever tools were necessary, any reasonable accommodations were necessary to be able to live as independently as possible.

    And so, as his mother, of course, one of my primary concerns is, can he effectively communicate his wants, his needs, his desires to live the life that he wants to live in and to be in charge of it?

    And so a lot of technology has been built as a result of that because there was a demand for it.

  • Jen Deerinwater:

    One of the caveats of the ADA was to try to stop the institutionalization of disabled people. Well, that's not really ended.

    Like, yes, we do have more options, but disabled people are being institutionalized all the time. I can't tell you the number of times I have had medical providers or health care workers try to put me in a nursing home.

    I don't need to be in a nursing home. Just make sure I have a disability-accessible apartment and a home health aide, and I can mostly get by on my own.

  • Alice Wong:

    I do think, especially with the pandemic, my right to health care and to be protected from discrimination is really important.

    I am legit worried about coming down with COVID-19 and not being a priority or considered a life worth saving. And these attitudes will not be fixed by a law. These are larger, more difficult cultural changes that need to happen. And that takes time.

  • Max Barrows:

    We're still not seen as independent or productive people in many areas, because we rarely are given the opportunity to prove ourselves. And people should let us be in the driver's seat of making decisions for ourselves.

    And who knows us better than we know ourselves?

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