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ADA Awareness Day
July 26, 2015 is the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This Act was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. It signified an independence day for millions of disabled Americans. Join AIA Dallas in a day-long celebration on Friday, July 24th.
On that historic day, someone said: "There were over 1300 people there, many of whom are disabled. They had some VERY powerful speakers say some VERY powerful things and then the party began! They had a band called “Flame” which is made up of 11 people with disabilities … all talented artists. They played mostly classic rock and we watched people with varying disabilities out on the dance floor celebrating their independence. That’s what the ADA is for them, you know … independence. When I stood on the White House lawn 20 years ago at the signing of the ADA, it was a declaration of independence for an incredible group of often forgotten people."
July is the month in which we as Americans celebrate our independence. But for the millions of disabled citizens, the date is not July 4, but actually July 26! On July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities, was passed. It was on July 26 that the disabled community won a huge victory in their fight for autonomy and independence. At the signing of the ADA, President George Bush stated, “Three weeks ago we celebrated our nation’s Independence Day. Today we’re here to rejoice in and celebrate another ‘independence day,’ one that is long overdue. With today’s signing of the landmark Americans for Disabilities Act, every man, woman, and child with a disability can now pass through once-closed doors into a bright new era of equality, independence, and freedom.”
The ADA was created to encourage and promote the rehabilitation of persons with disabilities, to eliminate unnecessary architectural barriers for persons with disabilities, to remove restrict ions to the ability to engage in gainful occupation and to prevent restrictions to the ability to achieve maximum personal independence. For many years, people that were disabled could not find jobs, shop by themselves, enter government buildings or even go to parks. Today, 25 years later, it has opened up doors (no pun intended) for many people who would have been otherwise relegated to being at home; being driven around or dependent on others to do all the mundane tasks that we, the abled bodied, take for granted.
The ADA has changed the lives of 52 million Americans who today have a disability. Prior to 1990, there were only 5% of buses that were accessible to the disabled; today, 95% of buses are accessible. Prior to 1990, most buildings had architectural barriers within them which did not allow the disabled community to access them; today, all new buildings are required to have accessibility features in place to allow access to all. But, we still have a long way to go. Architects and designers are charged to create spaces that are sustainable, that are aesthetically pleasing and to make a difference in our built environment. Should not a building that can sustain itself for decades or even centuries be accessible by every member of our society?
We are fortunate we practice in Texas. In Texas, we have a program which requires all new or altered buildings with a construction cost greater than $50k be reviewed and inspected by a registered accessibility specialist (RAS). This means a designer will have an experienced second pair of eyes who can look over their drawings and advise them on where they might be deficient with their accessibility solutions. This allows the architects to then relay the comments back to the contractor prior to construction and, hopefully, the new construction will be accessible. Because of this program, administered by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, Texans with disabilities have a better chance of finding an accessible parking space, accessible curb ramps, accessible entrances, and even accessible restrooms than in most other states in the U.S. without such programs.
The standards for designing for person with disabilities has changed in the last 25 years. They are much more comprehensive and require accessibility to many elements and facilities that were not required in the initial stages of ADA. Persons with disabilities are now protected from discrimination and have the opportunity to enjoy the things that everyone else can enjoy.
We, as architects, play an awesome role for the disabled community. It is through our influence and foresight that they have freedom! It is with our expertise and advocacy on their behalf that we offer the opportunity to enjoy the buildings and spaces we design. Beyond the legal requirements, it is our privilege as the leaders of the built environment to focus not just on making our buildings sustainable, but also on making them livable and usable to all members of our society regardless of their level of ability.
President George Bush, at the signing of the ADA, had an emphatic directive—“Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down”— which neatly encapsulated the simple yet long overdue message of the ADA: that millions of Americans with disabilities are full-fledged citizens and, as such, are entitled to legal protections that ensure them equal opportunity and access to the mainstream of American life.
Please join AIA Dallas and its Codes and Standards Committee to celebrate the 25th anniversary of ADA on July 24th, the day proclaimed by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings as ADA Awareness Day, with a full day of FREE events. Registration is now open, and sponsorship opportunities are still available. Click here for more information.