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Access for disabled is work in progress

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Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., second from right, speaks in Washington Monday in celebration of the ADA.

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., second from right, speaks in Washington Monday in celebration of the ADA.

Associated Press

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This important civil rights legislation has helped to ensure that people with disabilities are treated as equal to other people. It provides protections to people with disabilities in employment and helps to ensure public places, such as restaurants or movie theaters, are accessible, along with public transportation.

Where accessibility was once an afterthought — a business might cobble together a wheelchair ramp to comply with the federal law — it is now a seamless part of architectural plans. Experience has shown that making buildings accessible not only benefits people with disabilities, but also people who make deliveries as well as moms with tots in strollers.

Much progress has occurred in reducing physical barriers and changing policies and practices to allow people with disabilities full participation in community life, but changing perceptions is a work in progress. As President George H.W. Bush explained when he signed the ADA into law in 1990, "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down."

There clearly needs to be much greater public awareness about disabilities in general, ADA and the profound difference the law has made in the lives of people with disabilities.

As one reader commented on the Deseret News' article published June 27, " 'Reducing barriers': Americans with Disabilities Act marks 20 years":

"Because of the ADA act, I was able to teach another 20 years so I could retire. I wasn't a burden on the taxpayers by having to go on disability. All I needed was air conditioning. I remember the day the law passed. I jumped for joy. I'm so grateful for it!"

Another reader made the point that anyone — at any time — could become disabled. Indeed, the Census Bureau says 54 million Americans have a wide array of disabilities including visual and auditory impairments. More than 3 million people ages 15 or older use a wheelchair, CNN reports.

As President Barack Obama explained at a White House reception to commemorate ADA's 20th anniversary, "Not dependence but independence. That's what the ADA was all about."

The nation needs to continue to embrace the original intent of this legislation, which is full participation for all Americans.