The Dothan VR office invited area businesses, agencies, and employers to join them in celebrating the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) — a monumental and wide-ranging civil rights law that protects the rights of people with disabilities.
“The ADA is so important — it is essentially the Bill of Rights for persons with disabilities — that we wanted to do something fun,” said Jennifer Robinson, VR unit supervisor in Dothan. “It’s summer, so we’re celebrating with hot dogs and ice cream, but more importantly, we’re having an open discussion about the common interest that brought us all together today: diversity in the workplace.”
The Dothan Area Committee on the Employment of People with Disabilities set up an interactive display in the parking lot to explore disability awareness. ADRS Rehabilitation Technology Specialist II Jeffrey Mega held demonstrations of various assistive technology devices.
“This isn’t just a celebration for an important piece of legislation,” said Peggy Anderson, statewide administrator for the department’s business relations program. “The history of the ADA didn’t begin July 26, 1990, nor did it begin when the bill was first introduced to Congress in 1988. The ADA was born out of the many thousands of individuals who comprise and represent the entire disability rights movement. So, in a sense, this is a celebration about all of us.”
Legally speaking, a precursor to the ADA occurred in 1973 with the passage of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Section 504 guaranteed the first U.S. federal civil rights protection for people with disabilities and banned discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds.
The ADA picks up where Section 504 left off, imparting much greater protection for Americans with disabilities against discrimination, providing reasonable accommodation guidelines to employers, and establishing accessibility requirements for public accommodations.
“In 1982 — when I was in college — I had dreams of being a chemical engineer, but the chemistry labs were on the fourth floor of a building without an elevator,” said Graham Sisson, the state of Alabama ADA coordinator under the Governor’s Office On Disability (GOOD), who uses a wheelchair. “Because there were no elevators, I had to change my major to accounting. All of this might sound impossible today, but it’s really a testament to how far we’ve come.”