Americans with Disabilities Act turns 30 years old

President George H.W. Bush signed the bill into law on July 26, 1990.

Posted: Jul 27, 2020 12:09 AM
Updated: Jul 27, 2020 8:44 AM

For the past three decades, a marque law has been in place to protect the rights of people across the country.

30 years ago, on July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The bill was the first of its kind to include sweeping protections for those with disabilities.

President George H.W. Bush signs the ADA into law on July 26, 1990. President George H.W. Bush signs the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.

As schools across north Alabama prepare to head to the classroom, Jane Burdeshaw, the commissioner of the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services (ADRS) said the ADA will help ensure that all students receive equal access to a good education this fall.

"Because of laws like the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the ADA, students with disabilities in the classroom need those supports and services to surround them in order to achieve their maximum potential. And so they need to be in school and learning and having those supports through the individualized education plan," Burdeshaw said.

She said that after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed, there was a realization that a group of Americans was left out of the equation. That spurred activism in the 1970s and 1980s to bring about change.

The bill received overwhelming bi-partisan support and was approved in the Senate on September 7, 1989 by a vote of 76-8. 16 members did not vote. 

Both of Alabama's senators at the time, Richard Shelby (R-AL) and Howell Heflin (D-AL) voted in favor of the ADA.

Burdeshaw said as parents prepare their kids for school next month, they need to take an active role in making sure they are receiving the help the need, per the ADA.

"We can't forget about the population of students who need those extra supports and services and families are the best advocates. And they need to make sure that they stay in touch with their school system, that they talk and explain their needs so that they can be met," Burdeshaw said.

She said that while they weren't able to have the big celebration for the law's passing that she hoped, she said it's still important for people to recognize the significance of this legislation for so many Americans.

"I guess across the board, I'm just excited about the anniversary of the ADA. It has opened so many doors and it can open so many more," Burdeshaw said.

"This year is not only the 30th anniversary of the ADA, it is the 100th anniversary of the Public Vocational Rehabilitation Program, which helps individuals with disabilities return to work. It is the 75th anniversary of the National Disability Employment Awareness Month events that happen in October every year to celebrate business and industry who give individuals an opportunity to work."

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