Celebrating the Passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act

July is Disability Pride Month! July 26, 2023 marks the 33rd Anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, better known as the ADA. Most people living in the U.S. are somewhat familiar with a few of the regulations the ADA put into place. For example, ensuring service animals access to public places. However, the ADA was just one act in a long battle for civil rights led by disabled activists and disability advocates.

One iconic moment in this history was "Capitol Crawl” protest. This event was part of the “Wheels of Justice” march in Washington D.C. on March 12, 1990 by ADAPT, a grassroots disability rights organization. ADAPT members abandoned their chairs, crutches, and walkers and crawled up the steps of the Capitol. They demonstrated both the physical and political inaccessibility of the government building to disabled people. Soon after, Congress passed the ADA, representing a major step toward addressing ableism in the U.S. through federal protections and enshrining accessibility as a civil right.

Accessibility, as defined by the CDC regarding disability, is “when the needs of people with disabilities are specifically considered, and products, services, and facilities are built or modified so that they can be used by people of all abilities.” Accessibility modifications and accommodations do not only benefit disabled users. For example, curb cutouts in sidewalks were created to enable people using mobility aids to cross the street, but they also help parents using strollers, people wheeling shopping carts or wagons, etc.

It is estimated that as many as 20% of individuals in the U.S. live with a disability, making people with disabilities the largest minority in the country.

Below is a brief timeline of relevant civil rights legislation regarding disability in the United States. Click the links to see each specific piece of legislation on its designated U.S. government page.

  • Sept. 26, 1973—Rehabilitation Act of 1973: The language of what would become the ADA of 1990 largely mirrored this earlier act. Section 504 outlines civil rights protecting people in federally funded organizations from discrimination based on disability. 504 Plans help these organizations, such as schools, combat discrimination, and lay out the accommodations they will provide to address needs that can impact the participation of people with disabilities in activities or services.
  • Nov. 29, 1975—Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA): A precursor to IDEA, the EHA entitled disabled students attending public schools that received federal funding to equal access to education in a “least-restrictive environment (LRE)” and one free meal per day.
  • 1978—Establishment of National Council on Disability (NCD): This independent federal agency was created to inform on public policy and legislation affecting disabled individuals.

Recommended Reading

Although legislation has come a long way toward promoting equality, people without disabilities can also have a significant impact in disability advocacy and are encouraged to read more on the topic. Here are some titles to get you started!

For more recommendations, see our curated list celebrating Disability Pride Month: https://plymc.bibliocommons.com/list/share/1732607149/2335657789


Here are some additional resources to help you learn more about disability services and access benefits.

Note: Some people or contexts may prefer either Identity-First Language, in which a writer/speaker refers to themselves or others as “a disabled person,” or Person-First Language, in which a writer/speaker refers to themselves or others as “a person with disabilities (PWD)” or “a person who is disabled.” Many organizations, writers, and activists mention their preferred language.