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ADA Anniversary: Law "Desegregated" U.S. for People with Disabilities

People in Washington and across the country see passage of the American with Disabilities Act, 27 years ago today, as a major civil-rights victory. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
People in Washington and across the country see passage of the American with Disabilities Act, 27 years ago today, as a major civil-rights victory. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
July 26, 2017

SEATTLE - The Americans with Disabilities Act turns 27 today, and its advocates are celebrating the legislation and also looking at the future of their movement for equality.

The ADA changed the landscape of the country and made it easier for people with disabilities to seek accommodations, although the struggle to improve accessibility in many cities rages on. But Tina Pinedo, director of communications for Disability Rights Washington, credited the ADA for "desegregating" the country between people with and without disabilities.

"The ADA really was something that we could all get behind, right? We just want equal rights," Pinedo said, "and I think it's an important reminder, especially during the anniversary, to think about it as a civil-rights movement. It's just a group of people that want equal access."

Pinedo said a very human moment finally pushed Congress to pass the bill. About 100 activists with physical disabilities shed their chairs, crutches and other assistive devices and climbed the steps of the Capitol building, urging senators to act on the legislation. Their action became known as the "Capitol Crawl."

The work of Disability Rights Washington also includes advocating for people with mental-health issues. Pinedo said the largest disparities in accessibility and services exist in prisons and jails, and pointed out that the ADA also applies to people who are incarcerated.

"We're focusing a lot on implementation of those rights that people have," Pinedo said, "and working with policy within jails and prisons to make it easier for everyone, including the staff, to accommodate someone with a disability."

Pinedo said her organization's Avid Prison and Avid Jail projects focus on accessibility issues in Washington state. The group also is part of the Protection Advocacy Network, a federally funded program that investigates abuse and neglect in prisons and jails.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA