What Came Before the ADA?

What led up to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Its safe to say that most people know about the Americans with Disability Act of 1990, also known as the ADA. It was a landmark civil rights achievement that was based on the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It created accessibility guidelines for businesses and schools, created programs to support disabled people living in the community, and so much more.

But the ADA wasn’t the first legislation created to help those with disabilities, though it’s the most famous. Before the ADA there was the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 (ABA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

What is the Architectural Barriers Act of 1968?

The Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 is legislation that mandates that all government building must be accessible to those with physical disabilities. In the document it talks about the need to regularly survey government buildings to ensure the following items are accessible:

  • Entrances
  • Parking and Passenger loading Zones
  • Accessible Routes
  • Ground and floor surfaces
  • Ramps – curb cuts
  • Stairs and handrails
  • Elevators and Platform li s
  • Toilet rooms, stalls, water closets, urinal
  • Signs, tactile warnings and alarms
  • Doors and Windows
  • Telephones
  • Drinking fountains
  • Controls and operating mechanisms

In Section 606 of the act it states:

“The following criteria have been established to assist in determining whether specific buildings and facilities are covered by the ABA.

  • All direct Federal building or facility constructions, acquisitions, or alterations for which design specifications were rendered on or after September 2, 1969.
  • All federally-assisted constructions, acquisitions, or alterations commencing with the rendering of design specifications on or after September 2, 1969.
  • All Federal Government leased facilities, built according to government specifications (e.g., square footage, fire or safety requirements, structural specifications, etc., not related to accessibility) leased on or after September 2, 1969.
  • All other facilities and space leased on or after January 1, 1977, or for which leases were renewed on or after that date.”

What this means is that all building must be accessible, whether they were built to be used as a government building such a city hall, or a leased store front in a plaza such as with the Erie County Department of Motor Vehicle office.

What is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973?

When you look up “Rehabilitation Act of 1973” you’ll see its easy to find information about sections 501-508, with Section 504 being the most well-known. These sections are from Title 5 of the Act, but there’s seven titles in total.

Title 1 talks about the need for programs that help people with disabilities find employment.

Title 2 talks about the need for research and to regularly follow up on the programs created through the Act to ensure oversight and success.

Title 3 covers the topic of hiring educators and trainers to facilitate the programs.

Title 4 creates a national council called the National Council on Disability (NCD). As stated in Section 400 Subsection D:

“The members of the National Council shall be individuals with disabilities, parents or guardians of individuals with disabilities, national leaders on disability policy, or other individuals who have substantial knowledge or experience relating to disability policy or issues that affect individuals with disabilities … A majority of the members of the National Council shall be individuals with disabilities.”

Current members of the council can be found on their website here.

Title 5 is the most well known because it provides tangible rights to access in everyday life. It covers topics such as employment, architectural barriers, nondiscrimination in Federally funded programs – including schools and universities, regulations for electronic and informational technology, and more.

Title 6 talks about the need for employment for people with disabilities and expands upon the training programs talked about in Title 1.

Title 7 is perhaps the largest title and covers the need for independent living options for those with disabilities. Section 701 states:

“The purpose of this chapter is to promote a philosophy of independent living, including a philosophy of consumer control, peer support, self-help, self-determination, equal access, and individual and system advocacy, in order to maximize the leadership, empowerment, independence, and productivity of individuals with dis­abilities, and the integration and full inclusion of individuals with disabilities into the mainstream of American society…”

Guidelines are set out for the States to follow when creating their independent living programs, for example each state must create a “Statewide Independent Living Council” that will be separate from government entities, and involved in the creation and oversight of their independent living program.  

If you’re of Native American decent you might be glad to hear that this Title specifically states these councils will include representatives from tribal related independent living centers.

The website for New York State can be found here.

Its Been a Long Road

Its been 30 years since the passing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 52 years since the passing of the Architectural Barriers Act and 47 years since the passing of the Rehabilitations Act – or 43 years if you don’t consider it passed until the inclusion of Section 504.

But its not done.

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