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ADA Turns 20: How Far Has NH Come?

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July 26, 2010

CONCORD, N.H. - The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law 20 years ago today, is a wide-ranging civil rights law prohibiting discrimination in employment and requiring access to goods and services. The federal law applies to people with disabilities of all kinds.

Richard Cohen, executive director of a statewide advocacy agency, the Disabilities Rights Center based in Concord, says New Hampshire has made some good, but modest, gains when it comes to access in public places and schools.

"Just go to any Main Street or any mall, and you can see many more people with physical disabilities present in the community. There are certainly far more kids with disabilities in public schools and in regular classrooms than there were 20 years ago."

In the workplace, Cohen says improvements have been made in hiring people with physical disabilities. However, when it comes to those with mental disabilities - such as returning veterans who have brain injuries or people who have learning disabilities from birth - he says employers need more education.

"There's a perception that people with either a learning or intellectual disability can't do certain types of work. Most of those folks can, if they're well-trained and the employer is willing to provide some reasonable accommodations."

In terms of public buildings being ADA-compliant, in New Hampshire it is still a mixed bag, Cohen adds, because a large majority of structures are quite old and are not required to be compliant. New construction or renovations must be ADA-accessible. For many building owners, it boils down to cost, he says, but aid is available.

"Sometimes grants are available to make places accessible. In addition to that, really extensive tax credits and tax deductions are to be had."

The biggest challenges that the state continues to face are old attitudes and stigma, Cohen says, but through continued education and awareness, much is still possible.

Monique Coppola, Public News Service - NH