24 Years Later, Americans with Disabilities Act a Landmark Success, but Work Still Remains

July 28, 2014 | Susan Diegelman

July 26th marked the 24th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA is a landmark piece of civil rights legislation that recognized and sought to reverse the discrimination that people with disabilities face in the areas of employment, transportation, public services, and access to information. The law also paved the way for future disability rights gains nationally and internationally, including the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act (CVAA) of 2010. The CVAA was a critical step to ensure that people with disabilities have access to tomorrow’s information. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was also based in large part on the ADA to help promote the civil rights of persons with disabilities around the world. The US can be proud of its leadership role. AT&T hopes to see the Senate ratify the CRPD soon.

Technology has the potential to greatly improve life for people with disabilities and promote full inclusion and economic independence. People with and without disabilities can use their computers to seek and obtain employment, and use their smart phones to access household appliances and security systems. With today’s technology a voice can be heard whether you can speak or not. Nonetheless, America and the world still have a long way to go toward creating a truly inclusive society. Technology companies in particular must continue to address the needs of persons with disabilities to harness technology that is both innovative and inclusive. .

In particular, ensuring that people with disabilities have opportunities to work is critical. People with disabilities face a high unemployment rate (12.9% for people with disabilities versus 6.1% for people without disabilities) and a very low labor force participation rate (19.3% versus 69.3%. Today’s technology can help with these numbers by opening employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Employers also need to do more to recruit, hire, and support individuals with disabilities. We must ensure that as we develop the workforce of tomorrow we work with organizations like the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) to ensure that those with disabilities are provided internship and career growth opportunities.

At AT&T, we fully support the Americans with Disabilities Act and the related legislation it has inspired. For us, accessibility is not only the right thing for consumers but also for our business. Offering accessible products and services—and providing accessible customer service—has enabled us to access the large and growing market that Americans with disabilities comprise. Our strength in recruiting, retaining, and promoting employees with disabilities strengthens and diversifies our workforce and provides us with a competitive advantage in producing cutting-edge accessible products.

This year, we at AT&T are honored to be recognized for our efforts by AAPD, with its Justice for All Corporate Leadership Award. On the 24th anniversary of the passage of the ADA, we celebrate how far we have come and remind ourselves of the work left to be done. Along with my colleagues at AT&T, I look forward to continuing our work with the disability community to make a fully accessible society a reality.

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