What is the ADA?

The Americans with Disabilities Act is federal civil rights legislation that prohibits disability-based discrimination. The ADA helps ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity for equal participation in American society, including education, transportation, religion, government, and the economy.

History of the ADA

The modern American disability rights movement gained traction in the 1970s, when disabled activists began organizing at local, regional and national levels for recognition of disability culture and the specific needs of disabled communities. Disabled people had long been left out of many aspects of American life taken for granted by non-disabled people; in fact, the systematic exclusion and segregation of disabled people was both widespread and legal. Inspired in part by the Civil Rights Movement of earlier decades, disabled activists in the 1970s and 1980s mobilized grassroots campaigns in support of access, equity, and inclusion for disabled Americans. These campaigns promoted equal opportunity and also raised awareness about the ongoing barriers faced by disabled people, including ableism (discriminatory attitudes and behaviors, as well as systemic discrimination, against disabled people). Much of the policy- and legislation-based organizing of the disability rights movement aimed to codify disability rights as part of American civil liberties in the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act represents one of the greatest legislative victories supporting the rights of disabled Americans. You can learn more about the history of the ADA through the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, as well as the ADA National Network. For more information about the titles of the ADA and their implementation, visit ADA dot gov.

Disability Rights Movement

The ADA is just one part of a larger history of disability rights. The collective efforts of disabled activists across decades have achieved many significant gains, including laws like the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, and these efforts continue today. You can learn more about these ongoing histories and get involved in disability activism through disabled-led organizations like ADAPT, Disabled in Action, and the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network.

Disability History

Although the contemporary American disability rights movement began in the mid-20th century, examples of disability activism can be found throughout history. Visit the Equal Access and Disability Rights Commission for a timeline of disability rights history. Visit Education for Disability and Gender Equity for a self-guided online course on disability culture.

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