Jacqueline A. Berrien, Chair
U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Twenty years ago the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law. This landmark legislation was designed to throw open the doors to public life, in all its complexity, for people with disabilities. From sidewalks to sports complexes, restrooms to telephone relays, the ADA made it possible for large numbers of Americans to participate in activities in which their full enjoyment had been limited by their disabilities.
Nowhere was this change more important than in employment. The EEOC is proud of its enforcement efforts under the ADA for the past twenty years, moving forward to fulfill the nation’s promise to give all Americans opportunity, dignity and respect in the workplace.
Because of the enactment of the ADA in 1990, people with disabilities can earn a living, learn new skills, and expand their professional and social networks. Many employers have recognized the capabilities of people with disabilities, and determined that providing full access and reasonable accommodations makes good business sense.
Thanks to the ADA, a blind customer service representative initially denied employment can do his job seamlessly with a ‘talking’ computer; a deaf factory worker need no longer guess about what goes on at safety meetings thanks to a sign language interpreter; a janitor with developmental delays can be a successful employee thanks to a job coach; and a banker in a wheelchair can now access her place of employment using a low-cost ramp.
But for many, the promise of the ADA remained illusory due to narrow interpretations of the law. In 2008, Congress enacted the Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act (ADAAA), broadening the legal protections for people with disabilities. This is real and significant progress for people who, for too long, were shut out of many aspects of society.
While blatant forms of discrimination have receded, more sophisticated, but equally effective methods of restricting employment opportunities have emerged – not only for people with disabilities, but also on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion and sex. The ADA did not erase all of our challenges, but we have learned over the years, as we also celebrate the 45th anniversary of the EEOC’s founding this month, that the American workplace has changed for the better. The EEOC will continue to work to meet new and emerging challenges in order to ensure the equality of employment opportunity to all.