The Americans with Disabilities Act, passed 25 years ago this July, is perhaps the widest-ranging piece of civil rights legislation in United States history. We see its effects everywhere: in every sidewalk ramp, public restroom, and closed-captioned TV show. But its story remains relatively unknown. As Davis tells it, the bill was the love child of Berkeley activist types and conservative Republicans, who vowed that the bill would bring disabled individuals off the government benefit rolls and into the workplace. The act had a profound effect on America’s understanding of disabilities, enshrining in law the idea that disability is not just a private affair, but is instead produced socially by the imposition of barriers and the lack of accommodation. Quality of life has improved for the disabled since its passage—but the promised employment gains never came to pass.
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