Thirty-one years ago this week, President H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. Today the provisions incorporated in the ADA are more obtainable than ever before in history thanks to advancements in assistive technology (AT), the increasingly ubiquitous nature of AT in common devices, and a growing awareness about the power of technology to empower lives.
Signed into law on July 26, 1990, the ADA is a landmark piece of legislation that makes accessibility a civil right and ensures that all people with disabilities have equal access to goods and services, public accommodations, employment, transportation, and other areas of public life.
Under the ADA’s Title I, advancements in assistive technology over the past three decades have made it even more advantageous for employers to hire individuals with disabilities. Advances in the development of laptop computers and tablet devices, in adaptive computer innovations such as speech-to-text and text-to-speech, as well as a host of other devices and systems have made accommodating individuals with disabilities more affordable. Many employers continue to report the accommodations they provide often cost nothing (such as widening aisles), come built in to a computer operating system, or require a one-time expenditure of $500 or less. (Job Accommodation Network, JAN, survey.)
Under Title II, services provided through state and local governments have vastly improved program accessibility and equal access as a result of advancements in AT and accessible information technology. These days, the requirements for effective communication with auxiliary aids and services can be anything from an assistive listening system in a courtroom to an on-line system for paying property taxes usable by residents who are blind.
Assistive technology under Title III, Public Accommodations, such as ramps that allow individuals with a walker or wheelchair to access a store, restaurant, museum, or doctor’s office allow anyone wishing to purchase related goods and services equal access and are increasingly celebrated as Universal Design (accommodating durable medical equipment but also strollers for parents and childcare providers). More and more it is understood that good access is good business!
Under Title IV, Telecommunications, advancements in digital and website accessibility have advanced broadly and strides continue to be made although much more yet needs to be done. A wide range of assistive technologies are now standard in our telephones and other connected devices providing a direct communication link between everyone regardless of ability.
State and Territory AT Act Programs anticipate technology advances will continue to support increased equity in employment, state and local governments, public accommodations, and telecommunications. In all areas, AT Act Programs assist individuals with disabilities, families, employers, educators, therapists, and service providers to discover and explore a wide range of options so they may choose and decide what assistive technology will work for them.