Join OPWDD as we both celebrate the landmark signing of the ADA and reflect on how it has improved the lives of countless Americans with disabilities in many ways.
To mark the occasion, OPWDD has launched a social media campaign, “ADA30: It’s Personal” which features the intimate stories of New Yorkers who share how their lives were made better as a result of this law that makes sure people with disabilities are not treated unfairly.
Want to help promote awareness about the ADA?
Share your own story about how the ADA has made your life or the life of a loved one better by completing the sentence “The ADA has helped me…..” You can send your completed sentence or paragraph along with a picture or photo if you choose to [email protected].
Disclaimer: By submitting your story, photo or video, you are granting permission for OPWDD to use any of your submissions uploaded to its various website and social media platforms with the hashtag #ADA30ItsPersonal and tagged posts @NYSOPWDD. Please be advised that OPWDD will solely use these photographs for communications and marketing purposes only.
What is the ADA?
The ADA was signed into law on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and in all public and private places that are open to the public. The purpose of the ADA is to make sure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
The ADA has five sections:
Employment: The ADA guarantees that people with disabilities are able to apply for the same jobs as everyone else. It also says that people with disabilities should get the same pay for the same job. If a job offers benefits, like health insurance or retirement options, the ADA ensures that people with disabilities get the same benefits.
State and Local Government Activities: The ADA says that people with disabilities must be treated fairly by state and local governments. People with disabilities should be able to use government programs that are accessible to all individuals. The ADA helps government agencies make programs and services that are accessible. State and local governments have to follow specific standards in new construction, or if they make changes to buildings. And governments also must communicate effectively with people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or have vision, or speech disabilities.
Public Transportation: The ADA says that public transportation, such as buses, trains or taxis, must be accessible to everyone. That means, for example, people with wheelchairs should be able to ride on a bus just like people who are not in a wheelchair.
Public Accommodations: Public accommodations relate to places such as hotels, stores, hospitals and daycare centers. The ADA says that these places cannot discriminate against people with disabilities by treating them unfairly. This part of the ADA also talks about rules for how old buildings need to be changed to make them more accessible and that new buildings need to be built accessible.
Telecommunications Relay Services: Telecommunications mean using the telephone. A telecommunications relay service, also known as “TRS” or “relay service,” is an operator-assisted service that allows people with hearing or speech disabilities to make calls using text-based devices or by using sign language with video devices. The ADA says that phone companies must help people with hearing and speech disabilities to make phone calls.
Any government messages on television also must have closed captioning, so that people can read what is being said.
My name is Shameka Andrews I am the outreach coordinator of the Self Advocacy of NYS, State Coordinator of the Ms Wheelchair Program and Author of Butterfly on Wheels. I was born in the 70s and lived most of my life in inaccessible apartments. I was born with Spina Bifida and use a wheelchair so this made it very difficult to be able to go anywhere up until the year I turned 18 and buses became accessible. I got my first powerchair and I was able to go to college. When I turned 27 I moved into my first accessible apartment. It was very scary because up until that point I lived with lots of other people. It was a year I will never forget. Now I have been in my own apartment for 15 years and because of the ADA I get to work and play through my community and beyond.
Chester A Finn
I work at OPWDD and I am an advisor to the Self Advocacy Association of New York State. I am also a member of the National Association of Direct Support Professionals (NADSP). For me, I believe that the ADA is the most important civil rights legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It has given opportunities to individuals with disabilities to work and have jobs, and has made buildings, hotels, buses, trains and planes accessible to the disabled. Two of the proudest moments of my life related to the ADA was working with Congress, disability organizations and professionals across the country to add the amendments to clarify and add individuals to the ADA. The second proudest moment was being a part of the ADA Celebration with President Barack Obama and listening to Patti Labelle. The ADA has helped me advocate for myself and others. Many people don’t understand the power of the ADA and its effects on our lives. The ADA, like the Civil Rights Act gives you the right, but you have to be the one to speak up and use it to your advantage. When you’re working in your office, or riding the bus or Uber, know the ADA and the many people who advocated for it and continue to speak up for our rights and fight for justice and equality. That’s the ADA. For me, and the people I advocate for on behalf of OPWDD, and the civil rights of people with disabilities, long live the ADA!
My Americans with Disabilities Act story begins on a class trip to Washington DC 30 years ago. I just thought I was going there to have a good time and be with friends, but I will say that this trip changed the trajectory of my life as a person with a disability and as an advocate. While in Washington I saw many people with disabilities. My curiosity was piqued so I followed the group and it turns out I was witnessing the signing of this landmark federal law called the Americans with Disabilities Act which would open up new opportunities for employment and more access to public places. It also opened up the opportunity for me to go to school which I never thought was possible because I was not a good student. The ADA gave me hope for a future that I would make for myself.
Fast forward now to what was about to be the 20th anniversary of the ADA. I just started working for what was then OMRDD when I get an email from somebody from the Obama White House inviting me to an anniversary celebration. I honestly thought it was joke so I didn’t respond back right away. When I ultimately did, I asked for a number of someone I could call, and it turns out it was true -- the Obama White House did invite me. I called my wife, Amber. I could barely get words out that I was invited to the White House, and asked if I could I go. She said if I could figure out how to get there, then I could go -- oh yes, I forgot to mention they contacted me on a Friday and the celebration was that following Monday. I had to scramble to find somebody to drive me and Amber to Washington, and luckily, I had an awesome circle of support. My friend and coworker ,Norma Myers, and her husband ,Bob, were gracious enough to help us out and I will be forever grateful for that because I will say that these combined experiences have made me the advocate and person that I am today.
What I tell people of all varying disabilities to remember on this anniversary is that knowledge is power. If you feel that the Americans With Disabilities Act can assist you in having the life you want, ask for help in understanding what the law entitles you to, and use that knowledge to help others.
My name is Darren Jackson. I currently work at OPWDD’s Region 1 Office in West Seneca, NY as the Special Assistant to the Director. Outside of work I live in a trailer with my wife and my small dog. I love them both dearly.
I am able to live a full life because of the ADA. Having stores and businesses that are accessible for people with disabilities helps me to live like anyone else. My wife does a lot of the things that I can't do in our home. One of the things I enjoy doing is running errands for her. Without the ADA telling stores they need reserved parking places and buttons to open doors for people with special needs, it would be very difficult for me. All this would not be possible without the ADA.
I would like to let everyone know that people with disabilities do not want the community to cater to them. We just want things to help us be independent, such as door openers and parking places for people that use vans or have difficulty ambulating. I want to be clear that I'm not complaining. All these things I use make it easier for people with disabilities to be more independent. Without these things I could not live the enjoyable, productive life that I do.
It was only four years before I was born that the world started to become a better place for people with disabilities. That was the year the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed.
At the time, none of us could have anticipated that this relatively new law would have such a major impact on me and my family.Yet it did. At 9 months old I was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy and now use wheelchair for mobility. After my diagnosis, my parents had to adapt to a whole new world. They began raising me with an open book as they were only given early intervention as next steps. They were told by the doctor: "your daughter as a disability, and she will never be able walk, talk, see, hear or do anything as a normal child."
My parents were born and raised in the Caribbean St. Vincent and the Grenadines where disability is viewed as shameful and people with disabilities neither have access to services nor accessibility. So, the Americans with Disabilities Act is something especially important to me as a person with disability and to my parents. The ADA has made my parents "disability-proud" because it makes disability “visible.”
As a result of the ADA I was able to receive great medical care that allowed me to make great progress with my Cerebral Palsy over the years. I am grateful that I was able to attend NYC Public school with my peers both with and without disabilities. Although schools still have a lot of work to do in terms of inclusion, transition and accessibility, the accommodations made it possible for me to attend school.
As a result of the ADA, I am able to have home and community-based services and be fully involved in my community by accessing public transportation like public buses. The subways still have a lot of work to be done in terms of making them accessible and the paratransit system Access -A -Ride that people with disabilities, including me, use to get around NYC is considered “Stress A Ride” as it is often unreliable.
As a result of the ADA I was able to attend college at Kingsborough Community College and receive amazing accommodations including an adjustable desk in each of my classes, a notetaker and extended time to take exams. In June 2020, I graduated with my associate’s degree. As the former Ms. Wheelchair NY-2018-2019, I was proud to advance the platform to bring self-advocacy into schools and make them more inclusive.
Today, I serve on the on the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council and the Post Secondary Advisory Council in Albany and work at the Regional Centers for Workforce Transformation as the self-advocacy lead for region 4.
The ADA has not only ensured me of my human rights but empowered me to advocate for myself and others.
The Americans with Disabilities Act has shaped my life into what it is and where I am today. I was 3 years old when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into law; I have always lived with it. I feel like I owe my education and employment to it. Would I be in the position I am in today -- Manager of Grassroots Advocacy for the National Down Syndrome Society and a lobbyist in Washington DC? I don’t think so!
I am thankful I was and still am able to go to school and learn alongside my peers. Inclusion is important for my peers to learn to live alongside those of us who are differently-abled. I am thankful I am able to further my education and attend college, which was something that was unheard before the ADA came into place. Would I be a college student at Onondaga Community College a few credits away from my Associate’s degree? I don’t think so!
My education has helped me to get the career that I have. Education and experience has helped me to be comfortable in the social and professional circles that I work in everyday. Although I can drive, I fly to many big cities and take public transportation, I may not need accessibility, but I see all over the country how transportation is accessible now to my friends who are differently-abled. Would we be able to do that without ADA? I don’t think so!
I am currently looking for an apartment in Syracuse, a young woman with Down syndrome signing a lease on my own. Would I be able to do that on my own without the ADA? I don’t think so!
I had a great aunt with Down syndrome who did not live in an institution because of the support she received from my great grandparents, but she did live at home always watching television all day. If I did that my parents would kill me, but is THAT what I would be doing without the ADA? I DON’T THINK SO!!
Congratulations on the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. We’ve come a long way, but we still need to do more!
For more information, visit the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, ADA webpage.
Your Stories and Submissions
Many of the people we support, their friends and families as well as our staff and providers took the time to share, in their own words, what the ADA has meant to them. We've featured these stories in a separate gallery. Contact [email protected] to share yours.