Americans With Disabilities Act: Marking 30 Years
with Angela Williams of Easterseals
On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. The landmark legislation prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodations, and more.
Angela Williams, President and CEO of Easterseals, reflects on how the ADA has advanced equal opportunity over the past 30 years, along with key priorities ahead for the disability community.
July 22, 2020
Bush: Today's legislation brings us closer to that day when no Americans will ever again be deprived of their basic guarantee of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [ Applause ]
Anderson: That was July 26th. It was 1990. And it marked a major milestone in our nation's history -- the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act by President George H.W. Bush. The landmark legislation has increased access and opportunity for people with disabilities in our nation's workplaces and communities. Hello. And welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. While many in the disability community do acknowledge that there have been major improvements over the past three decades, there are still concerns that there are some barriers that remain. So, what's improved, and what comes next? Angela Williams is the president and CEO of Easterseals, which is a leading provider of services and an advocate for people with disabilities in the United States. Angela, thank you so much for being here.
Williams: Thank you.
Anderson: So, Angela, what was going on 30 years ago that led to the need for the ADA?
Williams: Thirty years ago, people with disabilities were kept separate, and they were not treated equally. Because of this, there were many, many advocates, such as Judy Heumann and others, that said, "Enough is enough." They didn't have the opportunity to be hired fairly and to have meaningful employment. In education, they were kept separate and not integrated and so much more.
Anderson: So, when it comes to folks like Judy Heumann and others who were an advocate for this movement, how did they make that happen? What are some of the things that they had to do to get this done?
Williams: The disability rights movement took its cues from the 1960s civil rights movement, when the Civil Rights Act was finally enacted in 1964 by Congress. They did similar things, such as sit-ins in key government buildings. In fact, just before the act was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, there was a crawl up the Capitol steps by people that were physically disabled to call attention to the need for passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Anderson: So, certainly, things have changed dramatically from 30 years ago. How much have they changed in your view, given the fact that this is an issue you have a pulse on?
Williams: There have been some tangible changes. For example, sidewalks have become more accessible with indented curbs. Or buildings have become accessible with ramps. And you see the push buttons on the side of doors with the symbol to say "push that" so the doors can open automatically. We even see more access to -- on websites and to be able to -- be able to read websites or to hear websites. And that is a result of litigation. But there has been some tangible difference. But I will say there's more that needs to be done.
Anderson: So, when it comes to the more that needs to be done, I mean, what really gives you pause in all of this? And as a board member of Easterseals, I know that Easterseals has been doing a lot of advocacy work on Capitol Hill when it comes to state and federal funding. What's that situation?
Williams: One of the things that's critical is for the services that are provides to people with disabilities, that they continue. Unfortunately, as state budgets are cut, the services for people with disabilities are also cut. That's a really critical problem that we need to collectively solve for. When we cut the budgets for services for people with disabilities, they may have underlying medical issues. This, then, puts them into an acute care issue in the medical space, hospitalization. So, we cannot leave people with disabilities behind. We cannot cut budgets, and that's something that Easterseals advocates for strenuously.
Anderson: And some of these funding cuts are certainly a result of COVID-19. This has been a strain on our society as a whole. One of the outcomes of that strain is the unemployment rate, which is incredibly high. What does that mean for people with disabilities? They're already challenged when it comes to employment, so what are we looking at, as a result of COVID-19, moving forward when it comes to employment?
Williams: When it comes to employment, I think it's continuing the partnerships that have already been established with small businesses, as well as large international corporations. Those existed prior to the pandemic, and we would hope that those employers will continue to stay committed to diversity and inclusion. We all know that there is a business case that says when you have a more diverse workforce, then that means you will be a more competitive business.
Anderson: And, Angela, if people want to find out more information about Easterseals, where should they go online?
Williams: Easterseals' website is easterseals.com. One our website are tons of tools that people can access for use at home. There are FAQs, there are tool kits, a lot of information about how to engage people with disabilities, to allow them to live, learn, work, and play. That's what Easterseals is about, and our website can be there to help you.
Anderson: Angela Williams, thank you for joining us.
Williams: Thank you for having me.
Anderson: And thanks to our audience, as well, for joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, be sure to visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.