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ADA 25th Anniversary Time to Reflect on Progress, Take Action

The U.S. will mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on July 26, the date former President George H.W. Bush signed this landmark legislation in 1990.

The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) give civil rights protections to people with disabilities. The amendments act overturned several Supreme Court decisions that Congress believed had interpreted the definition of disability too narrowly, resulting in a denial of protection for individuals with conditions such as cancer, diabetes and epilepsy.

Both acts are intended to ensure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities with respect to employment, transportation, business access, government services and telecommunications.

At a commemorative event, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – the agency charged with enforcing federal laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability or genetic information – and the U.S. Justice Department announced a Memorandum of Understanding designed to strengthen enforcement of both the ADA and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).

In April, the EEOC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking to provide guidance on the extent to which employers may use incentives to encourage employees to participate in wellness programs that include disability-related inquiries and/or other medical exams.

Among other federal agencies marking the ADA anniversary, the Social Security Administration said it will award $20 million to organizations that help people with disabilities access employment incentives available under the Social Security Act. Meanwhile, the Federal Transit Administration announced plans to release guidance on ADA requirements for transportation facility design, bus, rail and paratransit services for the disabled. 

Employment Statistics

The employment-population ratio for people with a disability declined from 17.6 percent to 17.1 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to data published June 16 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). By comparison, the ratio for those without a disability increased from 64 percent to 64.6 percent.

The lower ratio among people with a disability reflects, in part, the older-age profile of people with a disability; older workers, regardless of disability status, are less likely to be employed. However, across all age groups, people with a disability are much less likely to be employed than those without a disability, the BLS reports.

Visit the ADA Anniversary Toolkit, a project of the ADA National Network, for resources, history and recommended action steps.