The ADA at 25: A Commitment to Our Neighbors

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12: People participate in the first annual Disability Pride Parade on July 12, 2015 in New York City. The
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 12: People participate in the first annual Disability Pride Parade on July 12, 2015 in New York City. The parade calls attention to the rights of people with disabilities and coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

In 1990, when the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law, I had not yet made my decision to begin ROTC and a career of military service. I had no idea that I would join the Army, become a Blackhawk helicopter pilot and serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004. I certainly had no idea that eight months into my deployment a rocket-propelled grenade would tear through the Blackhawk helicopter I was flying, rip off one leg, crush the other and tear my right arm apart. The power of the ADA is that it ended up changing my life long before I ever imagined it would.

The ADA is the living testament to our Nation's commitment that we will always stand up for our neighbors' right to live fulfilling lives. It recognizes the fundamental reality that every American is merely one medical diagnosis or one accident away from a serious disability that forever alters his or her life. The ADA is essential in helping me overcome the obstacles I face as a Wounded Warrior and empowers me to assist other Veterans. It allows me to be physically active, have my pilot's license and serve in Congress. Simply put, the ADA enables me and millions of other Americans to move forward with our lives.

The ADA allows persons with disabilities the opportunity to participate in the world around them. Sidewalks and streets are now accessible because of curb cuts. Football stadiums and movie theaters now have accessible seating. Restrooms and elevators are now useable by people who depend on wheelchairs and walkers. Our courthouses and our government buildings now have ramps so that everyone can enter them to do business.

Our interaction with technology changed as well. Telephones are more accessible because we have video relays that allow those who are deaf to communicate with others. Television and movies are captioned. Our computers have touch screens so that those who have difficulty typing can use a pointer or other devices.

The ADA truly changed the world for all Americans.

As we celebrate the ADA's 25th Anniversary, our country should also use this milestone to renew its commitment to fully achieving the four main goals written into this landmark law: equal opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency.

We must never be satisfied with a status quo where only a third of working-age people with disabilities participate in the workforce, despite the fact that 80 percent want to work. During the great recession of the late 2000s, people with disabilities lost their jobs at a rate 10 times greater than that of people without disabilities and they have not yet returned to the employment level they had in 2008. This is not only a tragedy for those who can't find work, but also for employers. Persons with disabilities represent a tremendous talent pool in this country. These hard-working employees are tremendously loyal to employers who give them a fair chance, boasting a retention rate far higher than the overall workforce.

Equally troublesome is the rate of poverty among people with disabilities. Over 26 percent of the disabled population lives below the poverty line.

Without good jobs at fair wages in inclusive settings, economic self-sufficiency will not be achievable. Without reliable transportation or accessible housing, full participation will be unattainable. Without sound education at all levels, equal opportunity to compete for a job will not be a reality.

Our world changed for the better because of the ADA. As we look to the next 25 years of its implementation, it is time to take the next step and ensure that all Americans with disabilities have access to good jobs, accessible housing and reliable transportation.

The time has come for Congress to take action to fulfill the community living promise within the ADA. In the coming months, I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to strengthen the ADA. We all want the 56 million Americans with disabilities to be fully integrated into our communities and be equal participants in the American Dream.

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