The following is a reflection on the 30th Anniversary of the ADA from Triangle CEO Coleman Nee
On July 26, 1990, I was living and working in Washington DC. Whatever I was doing that day (in all honesty I can’t remember), I know that the monumental occasion happening across the District at the White House did not make much of an impression on me.
While I was most likely making weekend plans on that Thursday, President George H.W. Bush was seated at a table on the White House lawn signing his name to the Americans with Disabilities Act, the most important and comprehensive piece of disability policy legislation ever passed in the US. In these pre-internet/mobile phone days, I may have caught a segment on the 6 pm news, but for the most part this benchmark moment in American history was off my radar screen. I had no idea just how impactful this action was going to be in my future.
1990 was an eventful year – just a few months later when Iraq invaded Kuwait and threated the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, President Bush began assembling a coalition of nations to deploy and restore the sovereignty of Kuwait. As a Marine Reservist, I was called up with the rest of my unit to deploy to the Middle East for the Gulf War. We served in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and successfully accomplished our mission. However, that effort came at a cost. Many of our deployed service-members returned home from the war with both visible and unseen wounds. These were often significant and directly affected the way in which my fellow veterans were able to enjoy their previous standards of living. It was in beginning my work with these heroes and veterans for other conflicts that I saw how profound the ADA was to the lives of persons with disabilities.
In the ensuing 30 years, societal attitudes towards inclusion and the disability community have seen significant evolution. And, while we have a long way to go, I dread how much more difficult everyday living for all individuals with disabilities might have been without the protections and guarantees of the ADA. Think about things that many of us take for granted today in terms of access to public buildings and schools, reasonable accommodations in the workplace, protections against discrimination in housing, employment and healthcare. Prior to the ADA, many of these rights and regulations were non-existent.
Today, I reflect on the 30th Anniversary of the ADA as CEO of Triangle, Inc. In this role, I see its benefits in action every day, especially on the employment side. As society has taken a more inclusive approach to our workforces, the ADA remains strong in ensuring that the individuals we support and serve as they find and maintain employment have equality under the law, are treated with dignity and their human rights are respected. And, in return, our Nation has benefited from this more inclusive approach, economically, civically and morally.
As I said before, we still have a long way to go to achieving a more inclusive and accepting society. The conversations continue and some old barriers and obstacles still remain. We offer praise to people today who have taken to protest and advocate on behalf of social justice. It is this same spirit that permeated the brave advocates of the disability community who fought hard and demanded equality for decades prior to the signing of the ADA. As evidenced by their struggle, change may not come as quickly as we like, but if we are steadfast in fighting for it and resolute in our principals, it will come. In fact, at Triangle, we see it in our daily lives and the lives of our participants. And, as we stand with them during this difficult period of history, we are still thankful for the 30 years of progress we have made and continue to achieve in ensuring that the promise of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is extended to all.