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Americans with Disabilities Act marks 20 years

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

And as the nation marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Justice Department is exploring how the law could apply more to Web sites, movie theaters, office furniture and equipment, and 9-1-1 call centers.

The White House on Monday is scheduled to hold an afternoon event commemorating passage of the far-reaching measure that mandated greater access for disabled Americans to structures and public transportation and the workplace.

(Despite progress in the last two decades, what still needs to be done when it comes to accessibility for the disabled? We welcome your thoughts in the comments section below and will post some of the best responses later.)

Kareem Dale, President Obama's White House adviser on disability policy, said advances in technology make revisiting the law a necessity.

"When ADA was passed in 1990, the Web wasn't what it is now and technology wasn't what it is now," Dale said during an interview on Friday. "The ADA and the law have to pick up with technology."

Dale, who is legally blind, noted that he's unable to type in passwords or use certain authentication software on Web sites. But adding voice-recognition software might help, he said.

The Justice Department also wants to make it easier for 9-1-1 call centers to accept text or video messages from disabled people and to find ways for movie theaters to offer movies with closed captioning. It may also consider mandating the use of more accessible office equipment and furniture, including accessible medical exam tables, chairs and scales and “talking” ATMs.

"Our goal is to help level the playing field with disabilities to ensure that everyone has an opportunity," Dale said. A graduate of the University of Illinois law school, he first met President Obama in 1998 when he invited the then-state senator to speak to the school's Black Law Students Association. He joined Obama's presidential campaign in 2008 as an adviser on disability policy and later became the first White House official to hold such a position.

He's one of several disabled people who hold positions in the Obama administration: Deputy Director Christine Griffin at the Office of Personnel Management, Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the State Department's Judy Heumann are three wheelchair-bound, while Kathy Martinez, who is blind, serves as the Labor Department's assistant secretary for disability employment policy.

Integrating disability policy and disabled people into the administration's ongoing work helps keep the issue alive beyond today's anniversary, Dale said.

"It's been a sea change in 20 years, but we're not done," he said.

A reminder of our question: Despite progress in the last two decades, what still needs to be done when it comes to accessibility for the disabled?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below

ADA at 20 years chat: Join the head of the American Association of People with Disabilities at 12:15 p.m. ET for a live discussion of the 20th anniversary.

Unbuckling the Beltway: Colleague and cubical-mate Alec MacGillis penned a smart essay for Sunday Outlook asking whether we should disperse government operations more broadly across the country. "Such a move would spread more evenly the benefits of federal employment (and its contractor hangers-on). It would make the federal bureaucracy more attuned to regional issues. And it just might help dissipate some of the anti-Washington venom that's coursing through the country," he writes. Join Alec for a discussion about his essay today at Noon ET.

Cabinet and Staff News: White House chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel says President Obama plans to review regulatory decisions. Vice President Biden visits national parks this week. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has unfinished business in Asia. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner urges ending tax cuts for the wealthy. Tom Vilsack had last week's Worst Week in Washington. Laughter and regret mark Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal's retirement ceremony. New round of executive compensation "ill-advised," but not illegal says Pay Czar Kenneth Feinberg. Staffer John Walsh named acting comptroller of currency, replacing John Dugan. George W. Bush's unpopularity begins to fade. The Supreme Court is more conservative under the leadership of Chief Justice John Roberts. Losing a game of phone tag at the White House.

Leaked files lay bare war in Afghanistan: The more than 92,000 classified documents -- most of which consist of low-level field reports -- represent one of the largest single disclosures of such information in U.S. history.

20 years of problems at Arlington Cemetery: Now even the burial sites of Supreme Court justices are being questioned.

Taliban, Afghan officials say one of two missing U.S. service members is dead: NATO officials have not confirmed the reports and still characterize the two men as missing since they drove off from their Kabul base Friday.

Probe links 20 defense workers to online child pornography: The Defense Department's inspector general's office released a 94-page report that says some of those involved possessed top-secret security clearances.

In Afghanistan, why does counterinsurgency work in some places but not others?: In Marja, the distance from here to success is only 15 miles.

Veto likely on bills blocking EPA regs: Coal-state Democrats are trying to limit the federal government’s ability to control greenhouse gases from power plants.

FDA reports problems at Johnson & Johnson plant in Pennsylvania: The facility in Lancaster, Pa., is the third company plant to be flagged this year by the agency for serious manufacturing defects -- an unusual number for a single company.

Lawrence Prior's move to BAE signals changes for defense contractors: The hire reflects broader changes within major defense contractors such that are increasingly looking beyond combat vehicles and aircraft and redoubling their efforts in anticipation of a shrinking defense budget.

Federal Register relaunching Web site to make it easier to navigate: The Obama administration relaunches the Web site of the government's official newsletter to boost participation and audience.

Federal IT tracking Web site often inaccurate, report finds: The Government Accountability Office says a new Web site the Office of Management and Budget has established to track federal information technology investments does not always provide accurate data.

Federal budget deficit to exceed $1.4 trillion in 2010 and 2011: Contrary to official projections, the budget gap will not begin to narrow much in 2011, because of an unexpectedly big drop in tax receipts.

Deportation of illegal immigrants increases under Obama administration: The effort is part of President Obama's larger project "to make our national laws actually work," as he said recently.

As federal panel probes oil spill, picture emerges of a series of iffy decisions: If there is no smoking gun in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it is because there is smoke coming from so many places.

Medical marijuana to be OK in some VA clinics: Patients treated at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics will be able to use medical marijuana in the 14 states where it's legal, according to new federal guidelines.

Follow The Federal Eye on Twitter | Submit your news tips here

By Ed O'Keefe  | July 26, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Administration, Eye Opener  
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Next: Unbuckling the Beltway


Here is more on the 20th Anniversary of the ADA:

Posted by: tamarahenry | July 26, 2010 6:44 AM | Report abuse

Ed - Thanks for publicizing the anniversary of the ADA and the positive push by the Obama Adm to fulfill its promise for all of us, but please dont use the term "wheelchair-bound," the appropriate terms are "wheelchair user."
-Jeff Rosen

Posted by: DisabledandProud | July 26, 2010 6:50 AM | Report abuse

The ADA law started increased accessibility for people with disabilities, but there is still sooooooo much more that needs to be done. Some businesses get by with stating that there is an elevator in the building, is their 'ADA compliance'. Others might claim compliance by making wider walkways between cubicles so a person in a wheelchair can move around easier.

It's just not enough. Not every disability requires a wheelchair, yet that seems to be all of what some places think about when they think of disability.

I'm trying to get more people aware of the needs of the visually impaired, as this affects my family and so many people I know.

Trying to get an affordably-priced ($100 or less) seat down at the 50 yard line (or center line for hockey) with electricity so that my visually impaired family member can use assistive technology to help them enjoy the football game.
I don't know which is the biggest challenge here---the 'affordably-priced' request, the fifty yard line request, or the assistive technology needs request.

Posted by: momof20yo | July 26, 2010 6:51 AM | Report abuse

Hi Ed -- I think it might be time to rethink some of your own language used in this blog entry. Disabilities scholars and those of us who are living with disabilities try to encourage "people first" language -- so to see you write: "Deputy Director Christine Griffin at the Office of Personnel Management, Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth at the Department of Veterans Affairs and the State Department's Judy Heumann are three wheelchair-bound" was depressing to read. They are White house staff who are doing important jobs who happen to use wheelchairs to facilitate their daily activities.

It's called "people first" language, similar to how discussing "people who are living with AIDS/HIV" versus "AIDS victim." And so on.

But especially "chair-bound" wording is just awkward in the 21st century. Would you call someone who is tall, "height-bound"? I doubt it.

The key question is how these staff do their job, not how they happen to get around DC and their lives.

Posted by: kate36 | July 26, 2010 6:52 AM | Report abuse

Has it been 20 years? So much progress has been made, and so much is left to be done. It's still not at all a simple matter for someone who uses a wheelchair to participate fully in community life, and it seems that the non-disabled still must make a serious effort to allow disabled persons to move about freely, to live where they wish, to work without barriers. There is still huge resentment at what is seen as special privilege afforded to disabled people. Services for disabled adults are not embedded but are subject to budget constraints, leaving their families and caregivers to provide services that they've been doing for years and are still not-equipped to perform. Most of all, wheel-chair access to housing is limited: new housing with wheelchair access frequently is badly designed and overpriced, as well as being located in isolated areas. There is no serious method for landlords to remodel and re-equip their properties to fit the needs of disabled persons, and no incentive for them to do so, certainly not in the marketplace. Still there are wonderful things out there, and compared to other developed democracies we can be very proud of what's been accomplished in twenty years. Many thanks also to all the parents who went before, and all the veterans whose sacrifices allowed later generations to benefit.

Posted by: jody43jody | July 26, 2010 6:54 AM | Report abuse

With medicine on the verge of regeneration techniques, it may be smarter to figure out how to help people heal from their disabilities then spend money on fancy technology that would be difficult to maintain and a massive amount of money and energy to implement across the world. Alot of technology already exists for disabled such as voice recognition. They just need to buy the technology unless they are liberals and thing they should be given the technology.

Posted by: OptionJohn | July 26, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

I'm so glad you've posted this! But I do want to echo the others who question your choice of words. "Wheelchair-bound" is quite a poor choice of word.

I use eyeglasses and can barely see without the things. Am I eyeglass-bound?

Posted by: amm72 | July 26, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

It would be helpful if discussions concerning disabilities and individual rights also addressed people living on the autism spectrum and the protections and accomodations that they should be afforded.

Posted by: STTaylorDC | July 26, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

It seems obvious, but its still a big, big problem for wheel chair users...snow and ice removal. In Colorado, the rule is snow must be shoveled within 24 hours. I've seen my neighbors stuck in their homes because of unshoveled sidewalks, and poorly shoveled sidewalks. People do need to consider the disabled and remember to thoroughly clean off the snow and ice.

Posted by: AnnsThought | July 26, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

"Wheelchair bound" - Epic FAIL.

Posted by: FLHusker | July 26, 2010 11:57 AM | Report abuse

What a bunch of wimps. If you're not wheelchair-bound, then ditch the chair and get up and walk.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 26, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Reflection upon the ADA
I lost my eyesight twenty years ago after spending 30 years fighting a losing battle with an eye disease. That same year, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed. In the beginning, I was very excited by the rights and protection that law gave to others and me. But, today, twenty years later, I feel the law is unknown by many, misunderstood by some, and ignored by the rest.

In the last two years, I have been refused transportation on a Ride-On bus. I have been asked to sit in a separate section, segregating me from other diners or placed in the back of a restaurant because of my Seeing Eye dog. I can ask to use the ADA computer in the local library, but it has not been equipped with speakers or a soundboard, so the screen reader installed will not work. A local hospital has placed a “Code Blue” button in alignment with the Up and Down call buttons of the elevators in their new wing so I almost pushed it thinking I was pushing the up button. I had to ask a sighted person to help me register on this very website so I could make a comment because my screen reader could not find the “submit” button. .

Today, there is still 80% unemployment in the blind/visually impaired population. Buying and using a stove, washer/dryer, cellphone, or even an office copier with tactile rather than touch-screen controls is nearly impossible. Only a small number of intersections in the Metro area have audible signals. In the suburbs, there are dangerous highway conditions and not enough sidewalks.

The ADA was a small baby step in the struggle for equality and acceptance of people with disabilities. There is so much yet to do. In just the last few years, my experiences have taught me that the discrimination, avoidance, and neglect are still there; they have simply gone underground. I truly believe that instead of moving forward, we are backsliding.

Posted by: catpbj | July 26, 2010 2:02 PM | Report abuse

20 years and you still use language that went out of style 20 years ago. Wheelchair bound can mean two things - I cannot get out of my chair or I'm headed to some place called Wheelchair. It's time, ladies and gentlemen - pul-eeeze!

Posted by: tharris1 | July 26, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Let's try "person using a wheelchair"!

Also, lately access in hotels has been severely limited because of the high "European" style beds that are impossible to get into independently from a wheelchair. Hotels need to understand that ADA does not require them to use identifical furnishings in their wheelchair accessible and regular rooms. In this case, "equal" should be "equal accessibility" not identical furniture.

Posted by: drvlt | July 26, 2010 3:08 PM | Report abuse

On the job front, each disabled applicant needs an assigned advocate, someone who will help bridge the communication difficulties between potential employers and the disabled job hunter. Having an agency which provides information as to on-line job banks or how to fill out paperwork is not good enough.

Posted by: valcol1 | July 26, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Ed, Thank you for recognizing the anniversary of the ADA. I am a visually impaired individual. Technology is always lagging behind on being assessable. I still can’t get a normal phone that will read text messages. If I want that I need to add a 300 dollar software that will screen read the phone. Blackberrys are everywhere in this town. Just last spring the beta screen reading software came available for the blackberry. It is also additional $500. This stuff isn’t cheep. Also, I also train for marathons. There currenly no talking watches that provide audio mile splits. Every marathoner either has a timex ironman watch or garmen gps watch. I willn’t hold my breath for a talking gps watch.

Posted by: mrodjom | July 26, 2010 4:07 PM | Report abuse

Ed, Thank you for recognizing the anniversary of the ADA. I am a visually impaired individual. Technology is always lagging behind on being assessable. I still can’t get a normal phone that will read text messages. If I want that I need to add a 300 dollar software that will screen read the phone. Blackberrys are everywhere in this town. Just last spring the beta screen reading software came available for the blackberry. It is also additional $500. This stuff isn’t cheep. Also, I also train for marathons. There currenly no talking watches that provide audio mile splits. Every marathoner either has a timex ironman watch or garmen gps watch. I willn’t hold my breath for a talking gps watch.

Posted by: mrodjom | July 26, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps in honor the ADA's 20th anniversary, the WashPo will update its style guidelines around language and disability!

First to go -- "wheelchair bound", and it's equally inappropriate cousin, "confined to a wheelchair." I use my car to go places -- am I "confined to a car" or "car bound"?

Next -- "the disabled." How about "people with disabilities"? Would you refer to people who have malignicies as group as "the cancerous"?

Finally (not used in this story) - "Mentally Retarded". Self-advocates have made it clear that they prefer "people with intellectual disabilities" or "people with developmental disabilities." Don't we owe them the same respect accorded to members of ethnic/racial groups when it comes to determining the language that is used to refer to them?

WashPo is far from alone on this, but maybe you can take the lead!

Posted by: marnyh1 | July 26, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

I can get out of my car and run into a store. Can you get out of your wheelchair and run... anywhere???

The stupidity around here is amazing.

Posted by: jiji1 | July 26, 2010 5:04 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Kate and the others! Mr. O'Keefe, as a writer, you know better than most people the power of language. By putting the disability first and the person second, you place the focus on absolutely the wrong thing! Using "people first" language (i.e. person with a disability, not disabled person) is the first step in changing attitudes about people with disabilities. In April of this year, for "Day 88" of the "100 Days to the ADA" series, Disability.Blog posted a very good blog about using people first language and why it's so important ( I would encourage you and your colleagues in the media to adopt the use of person first language.

Posted by: dzeitzer | July 26, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse

The real crime is that the government takes up to three or more years to qualify and approve applicants for disability payments. Appeals can take a very long time due to lack of administrative courts and long waiting lists.

Disabled people often die before they are approved for benefits. The ADA has things backward.

Posted by: alance | July 26, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Using People First Language is a start...

Posted by: abnme | July 26, 2010 5:29 PM | Report abuse

This people-first discussion is pure nonsense. Give the guy a break, he's not a disabled-person / person-who-is-disabled advocate like the rest of you. I would always use disabled person because it's easier to type, and it MEANS THE SAME THING.

Posted by: antispy | July 26, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Right now, parents of kids with disabilities are in the fight of their lives with schools preferring to 1) provide glorified babysitting; 2) draw a line in the sand and tell parents if they don't like what they have to offer, take them to court. In these cases, parents are already broke, but the special education attorneys can take into limitless money from the districts to litigate. In Texas, the "independent hearing officers" are former TEA or from law firms representing school districts. A parent's chance of winning in this state are about 5%. They count on it. They won't provide proper teacher training (even when I told them I would pay for it). Then let's get into the Texas State School tragedy that has gone on for years that our governor or legislators did NOTHING about until the DOJ came in and said if they didn't, funding would be withheld. Just google Texas Fight Clubs. So many have died; so many could live more cheaply out of these institutions. Our family was on a waiting list for 10 YEARS for help. My son was 4; he is now 14. We have no money left, no retirement money because we needed that money for his therapy that medical insurance would not cover (autism). Houston ISD just cut 200 special education jobs because they said their special education population is "reducing". How is that possible when the rate of autism increased 400% in this state in the last 10 years? The tsunami of our children are coming; spend money on them now and teach them to become productive members of society who can contribute to taxes, or they will dependent on the social system forever, which could be 10 times or more the cost. Special education lawyers for school districts are holding seminars to teach districts how to get around IDEA and NCLB. How do I know? Because a group of parents attended these conferences all around the state, myself included. They want our kids out of their schools but want to keep our tax money to build their professional-level football stadiums, or in my district to provide lighting to their tennis courts for $1.8 million for the kids when they are doing just fine without it.

Posted by: PBMom | July 26, 2010 8:57 PM | Report abuse

Despite a landmark case(2007) in California, in a patchwork way it is still difficult for parents of school kids with chronic conditions such as type 1 diabetes(the autoimmune form where islet cells are destroyed in the pancreas, often diagnosed in childhood)to obtain ADA rights that would provide the child a safe day at their public school. ADA law, with respect to section 504, absent an enforcement/oversite organization accessible and quickly responsive as well as low cost is a law that does very little to protect these kids from bureaucrat's running public schools. Very often public school leadership has an unwritten but well practiced blanket policy of refusing to hold a section 504 meeting where the oversite plan is established for the student with a chronic health condition like diabetes. There are often demands that family members only provide the insulin and or glucagon. They may force the child to wait until lunchtime to get insulin despite the risk of a high blood sugar and the long term damage this does to the child's health and ability to learn. Parents are forced to drive from work to give the insulin and check the blood sugars, regardless of distance, medical safety, or law. If there is a school nurse, one who is current in diabetes and insulin, that nurse is so overwhelmed with the high numbers of students across our state and in many others. Often the schools leadership thinks they will call 911 for paramedics to give the insulin, ignorant that they aren't trained to do this. And in some rural areas that kind of help can be an hour away if not more. If your so lucky to have a stay at home parent available great, but so many can't. The law says the schools have to comply with ADA law in exchange for federal funds. Yet time and again money is the reason given for refusing to honor the mandate. This is not just affecting diabetic kids, this happens to others with different conditions too. Parents are left to choose to either keep their kids out of school, choose a private education if available, give up their jobs with the health plan, or fight the district for rights being refused. If you want your diabetic child to have a safe day at school under the ADA law, in too many places that means get a lawyer. Your going to have to fight for those rights. Your going to have to go up against the very system that says your child is required to be in school everyday and yet won't honor the diabetic child's rights to attend school safely. That was our experience in Fremont Unified, Fremont California. And it is still the experience of others in our state and other states as well.
A low cost, easily accessible government organization at a local and state level for enforcement of ADA law would be far better than enforcement by lawsuit.

Posted by: siren1 | July 27, 2010 12:22 AM | Report abuse

The question now is how can organizations, small and large, public and private, ensure that their websites will abide by these new standards? I joined a Boston based company a few weeks ago, based upon their passion to help put web teams in control of these types of issues. The product is WebWorxx - If you want to check every day that your website(s)is accessible to everyone, take a look at

Posted by: kevinobrien | July 27, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

valcol1, the vast majority of applicants with disabilities do not "need[] an assigned advocate . . . who will help bridge the communication difficulties between potential employers and the disabled [sic] job hunter." They are perfectly capable of communicating on their own behalf. What they do need, instead, are employers who have taken the trouble to educate themselves about disability, to eliminate inaccurate preconceptions about what people with various disabilities can accomplish.

Alance, people with disabilities only need benefits if they can't get jobs. And they can't get jobs largely because of ignorance about disability -- not only on the part of employers, but on the part of well-meaning people who want to "help" by continuing the attitudes from the bad old days when we thought people with disabilities were essentially children who needed to be taken care of.

Posted by: LawyerDMS | July 27, 2010 5:07 PM | Report abuse

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