30 Years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Today is the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Thirty years is not very long when you consider Americans elected (largely unknowingly) a disabled president in 1932. On the other hand, it seems an eternity ago given Americans elected a president who mocks disabled people just 4 years ago.

The ADA was crafted before the web we know today and is therefore silent on it as a platform, though there is existing case law to support the ADA’s application to the web. If you need evidence that companies on their own do not see the value of accessible sites, remember that Domino’s took its fight all the way to the Supreme Court in 2019, where it was dealt a de facto loss.

During a pandemic, web sites are sometimes the only way for people with disabilities to conduct business or access the services they need, making digital accessibility even more important today. It is unsurprising you will see the big players, such as Apple or Microsoft, touting their accessibility chops, even if it is surprising the top US-based digital accessibility consulting firms do not even mention the ADA anniversary on their home pages.

Pre-ADA History

Instead of continuing to wander through the digital accessibility landscape, I would like to direct you to some history instead. The 99% Invisible radio program / podcast has made a couple worth grabbing if you have not heard them yet.

Curb Cuts

Curb cuts, the ramps that connect sidewalks and streets, are often presented as the perfect example of how universal design benefits everyone. Wheelchair users are not the only ones who benefit from curb cuts, but strollers, skateboaders, luggage draggers, delivery folks, and so many more take something for granted that required a genuine fight to make happen.

99% Invisible, Episode 308, Curb Cuts, 22 May 2018. The episode page has images and video. A Curb Cuts transcript is also available.

Reading Systems

Most of us have likely heard of Braille. Until the advent of audio books, it was one of the few ways blind readers could independently enjoy printed materials, though not the only way. Similarly, you may see more and more museums or galleries that have tactile exhibits (or even maps) to serve a similar purpose. This episode goes into some of that history, though the second half focuses on the Octophone.

99% Invisible, Episode 360, The Universal Page , 2 July 2019. The episode page has images and video. A Universal Page transcript is also available.

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