Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘Independence Day,’ one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom.”

Former President George H.W. Bush said these words at the landmark signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in front of 3,000 people on the White House lawn on July 26, 1990—23 years ago today.

The significance of the moment was clearly not lost on the former president. Until that time, Americans with disabilities faced seemingly innumerable barriers to their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Facets of everyday life, including: employment, transportation, telecommunications and public accommodations were left inaccessible to hundreds of thousands of Americans.

The work of the ERC’s Disability Rights Program would not be possible without the ADA and, using this historic piece of legislation, we have had major victories in improving access for the disability community. Our work with corporate giants such as CVS, Eye Care Centers of America and Panera Bread have made their stores more accessible to patrons with disabilities. The ERC has also helped ensure that the government agencies of the District of Columbia comply with the law and provide residents with disabilities with the accommodations needed to take advantage of the available government services.

Here are some examples of recent ERC efforts to ensure that the standards and regulations set by the ADA are met and to ensure equal opportunity for all individuals:

  • In January 2013, the ERC published the Assistance Animal Users’ Public Accommodations and Fair Housing Toolkit, which is designed to inform individuals who use service and assistance animals of their rights under both the federal Fair Housing Act and the ADA;
  • In May 2013, the ERC has filed two lawsuits against Washington D.C., housing providers for violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and local laws that ensure individuals with disabilities who use service animals have equal access to housing;
  • For the past 18 months, the ERC has served on the U.S. Access Board’s Medical Diagnostic Equipment Accessibility Advisory Committee, helping to author recommendations for the accessibility of medical diagnostic equipment; and
  • The ERC’s unique Multifamily Housing Resource Program has reached 15 members, all of whom work collaboratively with the ERC to train employees with respect to fair housing and accessibility, and to implement best practices that ensure accessibility at its multifamily properties.

While it is beneficial to celebrate these victories, we must also recognize that there is more work to be done. All of us have a responsibility to assure that the “bright new era” for all Americans with disabilities promised by President Bush are made a reality.

Happy 23rd birthday ADA!

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