Get notice of new posts
Connect with me!
Help Support Our Climb
Damn Fine Words Writing Course

Happy 21st Birthday ADA

Making a statement with sculpture
Creative Commons License photo credit: Squeek

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed July 26, 1990. This is an update from the 20th anniversary post.

First Hand Discrimination is a Shock

Around 1985 our family was on a thousand mile camping trip to visit my sister in Phoenix, AZ. Aaron was about 10 years old, Tommy 8. That morning we packed up our tent and stopped about 10 AM in a Big Boy type restaurant in Flagstaff. We purposely chose a later time to miss the rush. We had eaten at similar restaurants each day of our trip.

We were sitting in a corner booth watching cars go by. Aaron was acting great, just eating his eggs and pancakes.

When the manager came up to the table we just smiled and expected him to ask if everything was okay. Instead, we got the shock of our lives. We were being asked, no told, we had to leave that minute. He would escort us out (after we paid our bill.) Couldn’t even finish our orange juice.

It seems someone complained they didn’t like the way Aaron looked. Not that Aaron was having a tantrum, or throwing things or … just didn’t like the way he looked. When I asked to be able to speak to that person we were told “NO, now get out. We don’t want your kind in our restaurant.” Me, being the great advocate I am, I just burst into tears, grabbed Aaron and ran to our car.

25 years later, I can still feel the pain and stigma of that experience as if I were living it right this minute. It was a transformational experience because it beat the fact in my head that we were not a normal family. Today that would not happen and the difference is ADA.

July 26, 2010 marks the 20th Anniversary of ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act. The Declaration of Independence may have taken place in 1776 for white male property owners, the civil rights of women and people of color happened in the 1960s, but many people with disabilities, their families and friends think of the 1990 ADA as our civil rights act.

The international symbols were a welcome relief.

Here are outside facilities in Santos, Brazil. The international symbols saved the day.

Accessibility is for everyone

There has been tremendous progress in the last 20 years to change attitudes, fight discrimination and give people some opportunities in jobs, education, technology, and communications… a whole lot more than just curb cuts and handicapped parking places. But there is so much more to do.

In a later post, I will talk more about accessible websites. I’m trying to find more information on the official “Bobby Approved” (think English Bobby–police officer) which rates websites for being friendly to people with disabilities. There is a little blue police icon in the corner of many websites–well, maybe not many–but at least some.

ADA.Gov Official Website

If you have a couple minutes check out the official website of ADA. Information and Technical Assistance for the Americans with Disabilities Act/a>

Recommended Historic Films

There are five films: ADA Signing Ceremony, My Country, Ten Employment Myths, Ten Small Business Mistakes, Police Response to Disabilities

Synopsis of ADA Signing Ceremony

This video documents the speech given by President George H. W. Bush when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990. In the video, President Bush speaks to a huge audience of activists, Congressional supporters, people with disabilities, and their families and friends gathered on the south lawn of the White House.

The 22-minute film, provided to the Department by the George Bush Presidential Library, is being re-released on the Internet to increase awareness of the ADA.

Synopsis of My Country

“My Country”

In this one-hour documentary, symphony conductor James DePreist, who contracted polio as a young man, profiles three people with disabilities whose lives have been shaped by the struggle for equal rights. Mr. DePreist is the nephew of African American contralto Marian Anderson, who in 1939 was prevented from singing at Constitution Hall. He draws parallels between racial barriers and the barriers faced by people with disabilities.

ADA Timeline

Our friends at the MN Governor’s DD Planning Council have this awesome resource on the timeline of ADA.

2011 Update

Ohio Legal Rights released this press release about the 21st anniversary of ADA.

We still have much to do and with the budget cutbacks threatening basic services for people with disabilities, this is a time of great stress.

Keep Climbing: Onward and Upward

All my best,



Do you have any stories to share in the comments? I know many people think the government is too large and there are too many laws. What are your experiences with ADA? What do you think is the role that government should play to protect the civil rights of vulnerable people?

Be Sociable, Share!

39 Responses to “Happy 21st Birthday ADA”

  • The story about your time at the restaurant is heart breaking. No family should ever be treated that way. My mother cares for a man who is paralyzed on one side of his body. I can relate with the looks received. It is something I will never understand.

    • mary says:

      That’s why I believe in laws and civil rights. Curiosity is one thing, but hopefully as more kids are included in general education, there will be more acceptance.

  • Ian Watts says:

    I think this is a horrible story and people like that shouldn’t be allowed in the land of the free. If it were me I would have ordered more food and left while they were cooking it and paid for nothing! It really sounds like your venting it all out in good fashion I doing think anyone should have to feel the pain from one incident 25 years later. When my grandparents were alive they fought for these similar freedoms.

  • Jaden Salensky says:

    I am very thankful for the ADA, I can take my service dog places because of it.

    • Mary says:

      ADA has helped all of us. Now there are accessible entrances to grocery and other stores. And, you are right Jaden, people who need service dogs or other accommodations can get the help they need.

  • It’s tough to locate educated individuals about this topic, however, you appear to be do you know what you’re referring to! Thank you

  • I think this site holds some really good information for everyone : D.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks. We are all a little safer since the passage of ADA.

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Thanks Loralee. ADA is the civil rights bill for people with disabilities. There is still a long way to go, but at least we have a foundation to begin.

  • Jayne Nagy says:

    I enjoyed this post! I cannot believe that just 25 years ago all of this happened! I also, cannot belive that ADA is only 20 years old. It’s hard to grasp the concept that the year before I was born a person with a disability could walk into a public place and could be refused service. That is not okay. I am so happy that we are on the right track now with ADA. We all need to keep raising awareness and pushing for equality in the future!

    • Mary E. Ulrich says:

      Jayne, it is hard to believe but twenty years is a short time in the history of our country. There is still so much to do. Many people are still being refused jobs, service, access. It will be up to your generation to continue the fight for full inclusion, universal design and full access.

  • I’d have to agree with you on this. Which is not something I typically do! I love reading a post that will make people think. Also, thanks for allowing me to comment!

  • 传奇私服 says:

    Admirable website! I’ll almost certainly be referencing some of this information in my next speech

  • gratis games says:

    Good morning. Awesome post. You have gained a new fan. Pls continue this awesome work and I look forward to see more of your excellent articles. Have a nice day

  • Hip Hop says:

    I typically don’t leave observations on web sites but you have some good readable material.

  • Our own nephew endures through autism and some of us ended up being shocked to discover that she was tantalized by the texture of these types of water beads. You can check them out at

  • Backlinks says:

    Keep up the good work. Everyone is opened to there opinion. Excellent blog here, i am still reading 🙂

  • Thanks for taking the time to write that, I found it very interesting. If you get a chance you should check my blog as well. I hope you have a nice day!

    • Mary says:

      We had a wonderful camping trip to Glacier. Tom and Tommy went on an overnight hike up the canyon. My dad, Aaron and I roughed it in a camper with running water. It is a beautiful place.

      Bet you would like my post “America the Beautiful”

      I thought the pictures on your site were amazing.

  • Mary says:

    Hi Brian, you are going to have to give me more information. What kind of professional writers? What kind of story do you want to tell?

  • Great post and straight to the point. I don’t know if this is truly the best place to ask but do you folks have any thoughts on where to get some professional writers? Thanks 🙂 Brian

  • positive good…this article deserves nothing 🙁 …hahaha just joking 😛 …nice article

  • Gia Dawn says:

    What a lovely blog, Mary. Thanks for the reminder and sharing your story. Hope Aaron is hanging out and doing great with his friend.

    • Mary says:

      Thanks Gia, now that I’ve made the first leap into blogging, I feel like a need a repeat last year’s workshop on the how-tos….

      Aaron and Jack have lived together for about 10 years. They really get along great.

  • Patty McMahon says:

    You’re not only on the RIGHT TRACK, you are the Engineer getting us up the mountain.

    But sometimes while we’re busy climbing the mountain, we have to stop and look back to see how far we’ve come. Today is that day. I spent today on Fountain Square celebrating the anniversary of ADA. When I looked around at all the people, I remembered all the pioneers that made this possible.
    I think it’s not a coincidence that you are starting a new venture, on the anniversary of both ADA and our dear friend.
    I can’t wait to follow you along the journey, remembering the past and being hopeful for the future.

    • Mary says:

      Your comment gave me chills, tears and smiles. Patty you know the journey-past, present and future. It’s been 10 years since Deb and Jenni died on this day. Our lives were forever changed. But our mission continues.

      Thanks for representing the Arc and spreading the word about ADA. It’s ironic that you have to be on crutches today.

      I hope everyone realizes that ADA is really for everyone—the physical barriers: mothers push their strollers up the ramps, delivery people have elevators, skateboarders don’t have to jump the curb (unless they want to), older people, the mail-carriers, shoppers go in wider doors, and in at least one bathroom stall, your knees don’t bang against the door:) The attitudinal barriers are harder, but I have received some wonderful emails since yesterday from people who are changing attitudes. I hope they will want to share their stories on the blog. That will make this a real treasure chest of golden stories.

  • Becke Davis says:

    You should definitely check out that movie – it’s well worth seeing.

  • Becke Davis says:

    It’s hard to believe people had those archaic attitudes just 25 years ago. It’s even worse to realize they could get away with it legally. I wish you had put the name and address of that restaurant in the blog, or at least the town it was in. If it’s still in business, I want to be sure I never go there, unless it’s to spit in that manager’s eye. (And you know I hate confrontation.)

    I’d also like to recommend a movie called the MUSIC WITHIN, which is about the American Disabilities Act. It’s a wonderful movie, and informative, too. (I don’t know how accurate it is, but it made me curious to find out more.)

    Here’s the link:

    • Mary says:

      It was a Big Boy restaurant for heaven’s sake. We go to the one in Cincinnati about once a week, so yes, I think that was what was such a shock. I guess other minority groups have endured segregation and discrimination forever, but the first time it hits home, it is something you never forget.

      Thanks for the movie reference, I’ll check it out.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge