Thanks to the ADA…Let’s Keep Going

July 2, 2020

Celebrating 30 years of the ADA

On the clear sunny day of July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. 

As we celebrate 30 years since the largest piece of disability rights policy was created, we could remember it just as a clear, sunny, happy, momentous, and even a peaceful day. But we’d be missing so much of the story. We’d be missing the work that lead up to its implementation and to the work that remains to create equality and justice for people with disabilities. 

Like so many movements before, such as Women’s Suffrage and the American Civil Rights Movement, people with disabilities had to join together to demand their rights be recognized and to make policy change possible. Advocates with diverse disabilities and backgrounds, like Judy Heumann, Ed Roberts, Justin Dart, Pat Wright, and Evan Kemp, fought and demonstrated so that those in power could not look away from the ways they were being treated – segregated, isolated, lacked resources and were denied opportunity. Borrowing inspiration and tactics from movements before, they donned signs, shouted, and staged sit-ins at the U.S. Capitol. 

On March 12, 1990, people with mobility disabilities laid down their crutches and left their wheelchairs. They physically crawled up the steps of the U.S. Capitol demanding equal opportunities to participate in society. This act, dubbed The Capitol Crawl, was symbolic of the oppression people with disabilities were experiencing, and would become the most important action to occur in the disability rights movement up to that point. Less than 5 months later, President George H. W. Bush signed the ADA, the largest disability rights law in history.  

“The ADA was a landmark civil rights legislation,” stated Valerie Jarrett, American businesswoman and Senior Advisor to President Barrack Obama. “It was a bill of rights for persons with disabilities, a formal acknowledgement that Americans with disabilities are Americans first and that they’re entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everybody else.”  

The ADA sought to give people with disabilities equal footing in society, so they would have equal access to their communities and opportunities for participation. This policy has carried us forward – into more independent lives, economic self-sufficiency, and integration. And the ADA has expanded to encompass more protections and policies benefiting people with disabilities. Honoring these triumphs, Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) is joining the national “Thanks to the ADA” campaign in July and sharing stories of how the ADA has impacted our clients.

At the same time, we must acknowledge that by the very existence of our organization, it is clear that the rights of people with disabilities are not yet fully equal. This has been glaringly evident during the COVID-19 pandemic where those with disabilities have been disproportionately impacted. But was also clear before the pandemic, as evidenced by higher rates of school discipline for students with disabilities, inaccessible poll sites, higher unemployment rates, unequal pay for equal work, and so much more.

So this July, as we mark the 30th anniversary of the ADA, we say “Thanks to the ADA” and to all the advocates who made it possible. AND we recognize that our work for equality and justice is far from done. We march forward with hopes that one day our services will no longer be needed. Until then, we’ll pause each July to remember what came before us, and we’ll be here when you need us. 


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed on July 26, 1990. The ADA is the most important disability rights law. It has been around for 30 years. We remember that advocates fought for these rights by crawling up the stairs of the U.S. Capitol. But things are still not equal. Disability Rights Tennessee will continue protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

Read our “Thanks to the ADA” stories:

Gary’s Story

Hank’s Story

Ryan’s Story

David’s Story

Ivy’s Story

Natasha’s Story

Kevin’s Story

Sarah’s Story

Ms. Guadalupes’ Story

George’s Story

Stephanie’s Story