Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at Home and Abroad
Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at Home and Abroad

Categories: Civil Rights & Voting

By Guest Blogger Judith Heumann, Special Advisor for International Disability Rights, Department of State

Twenty-one years ago, the United States became the first country to adopt national civil rights legislation, unequivocally banning discrimination against people with disabilities in the public and private sectors. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was remarkable not only because of its groundbreaking provisions, but also because it was developed with the extensive participation of disability organizations, bi-partisan champions from the House and Senate, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the business community and widespread support from civil society. This was the first occasion that cross-disability organizations had worked collaboratively to advance a common cause. Since that time, the ADA has had a profound impact both at home and abroad. Here in the United States, the ADA, in tandem with other disability legislation, has been utilized to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in all areas of life.

Abroad, the success of the ADA has encouraged many other nations to adopt their own domestic non-discrimination legislation, moving away from more traditional charity or welfare approaches to disability and empowering people with disabilities to claim their rightful place in society. Internationally, the ADA has been cited as one of the inspirations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). In keeping with the drafting of the ADA, the CRPD incorporates the same principles of equality and non-discrimination.

At the State Department, we are drawing upon the vision and principles of the ADA and CRPD in our work to enhance the full inclusion and enjoyment of rights by people with disabilities worldwide. The knowledge and experience that we have gained as a nation through implementation of the ADA serves as an excellent resource to be shared with other countries as they seek to implement the CRPD effectively. With more than 100 countries now having ratified the CRPD, there is great appetite around the world to ensure real inclusion of persons with disabilities in society. This is an interest common to many developed and developing countries, and one that I have witnessed first-hand in my travels for the State Department. There is also great need, with recent reporting from the World Bank and World Health Organization expanding the recognized global population of people with disabilities.

Americans with disabilities have much to give to, and gain from, this effort. In sharing our experiences with other nations, we have the opportunity to contribute to tangible improvements in the lives of persons with disabilities around the world. At the same time, successful implementation of the CRPD will create a more barrier-free world in which Americans with disabilities are better able to live, work, study and travel, and in which American businesses will have a competitive advantage. The State Department is committed to supporting the rights of people with disabilities everywhere, and ensuring that they are free to contribute and participate as equals in their societies. We look forward to continued collaboration in this work, and opportunities to learn from colleagues around the world who bring to their work the same passion and commitment for equality that has made the ADA such a remarkable and enduring exemplar of civil rights legislation. 

Judith Heumann serves as the special advisor for international disability rights, the first such advisor to be appointed at the Department of State. The position of special advisor was created following U.S. signature of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and resides in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (DRL). As the senior-level disability human rights position at the State Department, the special advisor leads disability human rights issues across the Department. The special advisor also coordinates the interagency process for the ratification of the CRPD ; ensures that foreign assistance incorporates persons with disabilities; leads on disability human rights issues; ensures that the needs of persons with disabilities are addressed in international emergency situations; and conducts public diplomacy, including with civil society, on disability issues. Please visit http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/144458.htm and http://www.facebook.com/SAHeumann for more information.

10 Responses to Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) at Home and Abroad

  1. Richard says:

    My son is a high school student with a certified print disability. His school acknowledges his need for print in an alternative format, but will not provide him material in an accessible, electronic format. They require him to scan during class, a process that typically takes 10 minutes while his non-disabled peers have immediate access. While he scans he falls behind everyone else in the class, and can’t participate.
    OCR will not investigate because the decision was made by “knowledgeable professionals.” I don’t understand – do “knowledgeable professionals” have the right to make decisions that are discriminatory? How can a service be equally effective, and provide equal access and comparable benefit when one child has to either leave class to access a multi sheet scanner, or take time with a single sheet scanner while everyone else has instant access?

  2. Paula H. says:

    I am a RN on Disability. I joined PenFed CU because Consumer Reports said they had the best credit/loan interest rates in the country. I applied for a credit card to get me through the “prescription donut hole” last year when my COBRA ran out (my husband ran out, too). The young lady who answered my call about approval of the card stated, “But aren’t you the one on Disability??” Like how could you possibility think we would approve you when you’re not working? They have continued to deny every application I have requested. I was told, “We are very conservative with who we lend to”. I had to borrow from high-interest services I swore I would never use. It hurt my credit, too. My score was 790 when they first rejected me. Now I hate to think what it is. My mortgage company tried to foreclose on me for missing ONE payment in 7 years, because I was ill. They took the next payment which was right on time and I told them I would pay the other in two weeks, but they started refusing to accept any payments from me, forcing me into foreclosure. So I have been fighting that. The minute they put that on my credit report, every bit of credit I had was shut down within a week. Even my empty checking account overdraft! Now I’ve had my car totaled (my father gave it to me when he quit driving and it only had 40,000 miles on it, basically a new car. But it was a 1996 Toyota Tercel, and the insurance company is only giving me $4,200 for it although they admit it was obviously new. The accident was no fault of mine. Two other people were ticketed. I was just driving along at about 35 mph and was suddenly rear-ended from a car at high speed…she hit me FIVE times until she finally bounced me into the car in front of me, who had stopped and was watching. I was the injured party….all the injuries that caused the Disability were reinjured. Now I’m back in pain every day when I wake up again. And no one is going to finance a car for me, certainly not my own credit union, even though the mortgage company has offered a 3-month modification trial (right up to the foreclosure date…I’m scared). Paula H. (P.S. I have alimony plus SS-D, and the alimony ends in 2013 because my divorce attorney was inexperienced and my ex is wealthy.)

  3. Robert G. says:

    ADA provides protection to people with disabilities from discrimination. It should be strictly applied.
    Being a physical therapist, I regularly work with people with disabilities and people needing rehabilitation.

  4. Mary says:

    I am disabled, my only income is SSI. In Dec 2010 my Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher was Terminated. The reason was due to the level of severity my disabilities had reached. I was not able to do the Tenant Repairs. I also hadn’t been able to keep up the day to day housekeeping. I requested a Fair Hearing and I tried to present information proving I had been evaluated for Personal Care Services by the State and I had been found eligible for 18 hrs a week. But the 2 people there from the PHA had no interest in seeing it and they said it made no difference because I “should have done it before now.”
    I filed a Discrimination Complaint with my Regional HUD Office. They sent it to the Attorney General’s Office in my State, this was in Dec 2010. I received a letter from him in March stating that it would take more than the initial 100 days to complete the investigation with the local Section 8/PHA. I spoke with him at the end of April and he said he was going to wait a few months before he contacted them. I told him to just send me a letter stating his office had done all they could and I would go back to the HUD Regional office. Well needless to say, I have heard nothing. I am paying $400 a month rent. No homeless shelter will take me because of my disabilities.
    In addition, I found a letter the PHA sent to everyone in May 2010. The letter states “If failed items are deemed to be tenant damage, the family will be given the opportunity to satisfactorily enter into a agreement to pay the balance in full or in installments. Failure to comply with their Family Obligations will be grounds for termination and removal of the family from the Housing Choice Voucher Program.” I was never given this opportunity nor was it ever mentioned to me.
    And 1 more thing. The investigator with the Attorney General’s Office evidentially has no knowledge or any type of training in dealing with people that are disabled. I was of the mistaken belief that there was mandatory training for workers in positions like this. I was wrong again.

  5. Martin says:

    I am very interested in this topic, although I live in the UK, this is a global problem, and one which successive governments the world over have promised to address. It appears that because of the emotive nature of the subject, it is a useful campaign tool when trying to get elected. Unfortunately, after election, that is where the interest seems to fade, leaving many if not all disabled people in a worsening situation. I have worked for many years with disabled citizens, trying to help get fairer treatment for these valuable people who have been forgotten to a great extent, and many who obtained their disabilities while serving their countries. This appalling betrayal always comes down to cost, and discrimination against disability is far more widespread than the discrimination toward ethnic groups, but ethnic groups are far better represented by people who make far more political “noise” than disabled groups. There is more political “mileage” to be gained for standing up for ethnic rights. I may be seen as biased because for the last thirty years I have been a carer for a disabled person, who, intellectually, I feel vastly inferior to, but physically his broken body has excluded him from so much in life, and nothing has really changed in those thirty years, despite all the hot air from successive governments. The time is long overdue, when this should be turned around, and governments should think about their own, before sending foreign aid into corrupt countries, and fighting other peoples wars! That money is the taxpayers money and should benefit domestic groups who need help, before all other less important overseas causes. Homelessness begins at home!

  6. Miss Vita Michelle K. says:

    I am a 49 year old divc. afro amercan woman, no kids, with disabilities. Where is my raise for the year? I haven’t gotten it. My check is all that I have. I no longer work, and my income isn’t what it was when I had my business or when I worked or when I was married, in the Army, Air Force, and Marines. Housing isn’t fast enough, with my disabilities. Yes, I live in an apt. right now. I am looking to build and get into a disability condo ASAP. With the programs, home choice and other, and the housing market the way that it is, it shouldn’t take that long. People have been buying homes with no jobs and no pref. of income, since the begining of time. It isn’t anything new, credit, no credit, bad credit. I have a check, and have bought houses before and the disability act says that PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES CAN AND WILL GET HOUSING, EVEN IF YOU ARE A AFRO AMERC. WOMAN. THE RACE CARD IS AGAINST THE LAW, that started before I was born. SOMEONE FORGOT THAT and YES I KNOW THAT IS WHAT LAWSUITS ARE FOR. Thank you.

  7. Kenneth R. says:

    Despite all of the legislation and piece meal enforcement, we are still the most disenfranchised and discrimnated against population on the face of the planet. I hate being disabled. I was a man who was working before I could spell the word. Not being able to do what I used to do because of these damn disabilities is not only demeaning, but painfully embarrassing to say the least. I used to be in charge of multi-million dollar equipment in the service – USA Armed Forces – now I catch hell just trying to get a job sweeping floors. In college where I’m being re-trained to be a computer science major, I get discriminated against by the very department that is in place to so-called help me and others like me. I have an organization to assist homeless veterans and their dependents called HHAARP – the homeless housing assistance and rental program, and I can’t even get a grant or funding to help those like me – a disabled veteran who put it all on the line for GOD and country only to be treated like a second class citizen. I was homeless – this is how I know and understand what it means to be that way. If you want to help, send information and funds to HHAARP in care of Kenneth Robinson, 60 S. School St., Apt./Suite 11, Honolulu, Hawaii 96813. Let’s see how serious you are about doing more than celebrating disabled persons. How about actually doing something like me to help us?

  8. Rick We. says:

    It is sad, but telling, that the discussion above as to the origin of the passage of ADA, as well as the crucial ADA restoration act several years ago, omitted that the organized veterans community played a vital and significant role in both struggles.

  9. Suzanne D. says:

    What is particularly pathetic is that many countries abroad have taken more steps to make accessibility a priority than here in the US. Also sad is that this article talks about the CRPD and how over 100 countries have ratified it, yet the US has NOT. The US has signed it but not ratified it. Even Vietnam has ratified it. It seems the US talks a good talk, but that is where it ends.

  10. Donald M. says:

    What is amazing is that twenty one years after the ADA became law, people with disabilities are still struggling to gain access to their communities. Here in our community they still don’t have curb cuts, and they still don’t have access to stores and government buildings.
    The only way that this fight will be won is if the Department of Justice steps up enforcement procedures and mandates compliance under threat of financial penalty. It is pretty bad when your turned away from jury duty because the jury box in all of the courtrooms are inaccessible to people with disabilities.