Celebrating the Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
“What makes you think you can do this job? After all, you’re in a wheelchair.”
In 1986, I worked in the insurance industry and had been employed by the same company for eleven years. The company I worked for had two major divisions, one in Connecticut and one in Pennsylvania. There was some overlap between the two divisions, including my position in Connecticut, so higher management decided to eliminate the duplication by creating a new, consolidated position. I applied for the new position and traveled from Connecticut to Pennsylvania for a series of interviews. The head of human resources in Pennsylvania interviewed me and asked me that question.
This was four years before the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed so there was nothing illegal about his question; it was offensive, but not illegal.
On July 26, 1990, the ADA made his question illegal and that is just one example illustrating how the ADA changed the lives of Americans with disabilities.
The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion.
After the enactment of the ADA, a person with a disability could expect to get into a restaurant, hotel, or a grocery store. People who had a hearing loss or who were deaf could expect that closed captions would be available for their television shows. People who needed guide dogs were no longer denied public transportation. People with a disability could go to a job interview without the fear that they would be evaluated on their disability rather than their ability.
At my interview in 1986, I had no legal protection against discriminatory hiring practices. I replied that the fact I used a power wheelchair had not prevented me from succeeding in my previous positions and I saw no reason why it would be a factor now or in the future.
My story ended happily. Back in the Connecticut office, the human resources folks and the hiring manager were as stunned and outraged as I. They knew I was qualified and I got the job. Before 1990, many other people with disabilities were not as lucky and their civil rights were violated. That is why I celebrate the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
This post was written by EqUUal Access President Carolyn Cartland.