The Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

July 26, 2023

Although 33 years have passed since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed, there is still progress to be made in all facets of life. Here, at Disability Rights Tennessee, we believe that disability rights are human rights and continue advocating for and protecting the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. If you have experienced discrimination because of a disability, contact our Get Help Line at 800-342-1664 or

Overview of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed on July 26, 1990, and was the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities. The ADA protects people in day-to-day life from discrimination or exclusion because of their disabilities, including (but not limited to) employment, transportation, state and local government, and public accommodations. To learn more, visit this link.

What led to the ADA?

The disability rights movement is one marked not just by intersectionality with other civil rights movements, but is also by fierce, bold, and determined activists and leaders.  Advocates with diverse disabilities and backgrounds, like Judy Heumann, Ed Roberts, Justin Dart, Pat Wright, and Evan Kemp, fought, organized, and demonstrated so that those in power could not look away from the ways the disability community were being treated – segregated, isolated, lacked resources and were denied the opportunity.

One of the biggest protests leading up to the passage of the ADA was the Capitol Crawl. For 25 days in April 1977, a group of 150 disability rights activists participated in a sit-in on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, D.C., refusing to leave until President Jimmy Carter signed a law to protect individuals with disabilities. This law, was section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, paving the way for the Americans with Disabilities Act. To learn more about the Capitol Crawl, click here.

Thanks to the ADA – David’s Story

There is nothing more fun than going to your favorite restaurant for a treat. However, many people with disabilities have faced barriers accessing businesses like restaurants.

David is a young child with autism and cerebral palsy. David just wanted to go to his favorite fast-food restaurant, but there was nowhere to park. The restaurant only had one accessible parking space and they let an employee park in it. David was so disappointed, and it just didn’t seem fair, so his family reached out to Disability Rights Tennessee (DRT) for help. 

Under the ADA, businesses are required to have accessible parking for people with mobility disabilities. DRT worked with the restaurant’s manager to make changes to their parking. They changed their parking lot to have two additional parking spaces for people with disabilities, including one that would be accessible to a van. Thanks to the ADA, all kids and adults with disabilities can park and go into the restaurant to enjoy their favorite food. 

Thanks to the ADA – Natasha’s Story

Going to the doctor is important. But sometimes visits to the doctor are not easy. 

Natasha needed to know about the results of some health tests. Because she is deaf, Natasha asked her doctor’s office for a sign language interpreter to help her communicate with her doctor. However, the staff told her that she would have to pay for an interpreter by herself. 

The ADA helps people who are deaf by making it easy for them to access the services they need. This means doctors’ offices must provide interpreters to deaf people free of charge. This is so they can have effective communication about their health care.   

Thanks to the ADA, the doctor’s office was required to help Natasha by providing a sign language interpreter at no cost. Solving Natasha’s problem helped other deaf people as well. Employees who work at that office are now taught to know how to get interpreters for other deaf patients. Now, Natasha’s doctor’s office helps all deaf patients the same way it helps Natasha.

Thanks to the ADA – Gary’s Story

Eating at a restaurant. Shopping for clothes. Filling a car with gas. These are daily tasks most people take for granted. But for some people with disabilities, these tasks can be very difficult. 

Gary couldn’t pump his own gas, because of his physical disability. He spent a lot of time trying to get help when he was at the gas station near his home. Occasionally, he even had to ask strangers for help. Finally, Gary made a complaint to the business. 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), people with disabilities are allowed equal access to public accommodations or commercial facilities like gas stations. Thanks to Gary’s self-advocacy and the ADA, the gas station agreed to provide better information at the gas pump about how a person with a disability can get help to fuel their car. Gary no longer must wait around for a stranger to help. Now he can rely on the gas station employees to fill up his car without trouble. 

What progress is there still to be made?

Since the ADA was signed in 1990, there have been a variety of regulation additions and amendments. You can view a timeline of these here.  Even though there has been progress made, we still have a way to go. We encounter cases of discrimination and unfair treatment every day, proving that the rights of people with disabilities are not fully equal.

Many people believe in the social model of disability, and that it is not the disability itself that disables an individual, but society’s lack of accommodations. To learn more about this, click here. There are a variety of different barriers faced by individuals with disabilities, including transportation, stereotyping and biases, physical barriers, and communication barriers. To learn more about these barriers, click here. At Disability Rights Tennessee, we work hard to protect the rights of Tennesseans with disabilities. If you or a loved one needs help, contact us at 800-342-1664 or

To learn more about our current service areas or what happens when you contact us, click here.