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July 26: This Day In History

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. A monumental bill for a voiceless group.

Community Engagement

Jul 26,2021 . 5 min read

Community Engagement July 26: This Day In History


On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation, created with the hope of prohibiting discrimination against persons with disabilities. In his speech to commemorate the act, President George H.W. Bush states, “This historic act is the world’s first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities — the first. And its passage has made the United States the international leader of this human rights issue.”

It’s interesting to hear the then-president speak about rights and assurances for persons with disabilities that today seem fundamental or obvious, like opportunities for employment, to purchase goods and services, and to participate in state and local government programs and services. After describing a few specifics of the act, his words are met with eruptive applause, which seems to indicate that the public had been long-awaiting provisions like these.

It seems difficult to believe, but prior to the signing of this act just over thirty years ago, individuals with disabilities were often “restricted to either their homes or beds in institutions, because the outside world was inaccessible and not made with them in mind.” The ADA is helping to improve the self-esteem of individuals with disabilities and how they’re perceived by others, and its greatest impact has been improvements in access to public accommodations. In a recent study more than two-thirds of individuals with disabilities who were polled believe that the ADA has been the most significant social, cultural or legislative influence on their lives in the past 25 years.


Having the support of federal law is an important step toward justice and change, as it creates a standard to follow and a framework for tackling future injustices. The Americans with Disabilities Act restructured standards of services and spaces to make them more accessible to all, but unfortunately, the execution of these standards is not always thoughtfully enforced. From the lack of maintenance on accessible doors and ramps to a lack of assistive technology in educational or public settings, needs are often unfulfilled, causing opportunities to be limited.


To work toward equity for people with disabilities, you can:

  • Educate yourself on the experiences of people with disabilities directly from the source.
    • The Disability Visibility Project offers podcasts, interviews and more to highlight the voices of people with disabilities.  
    • Read about the individual impact of the ADA through an NPR feature, In Their Own Words: How the Americans with Disabilities Act Changed People’s Lives.
    • Learn about how to talk about disability in a way that promotes equity and respect at the HIE Help Center. Language is powerful!
    • Advocate for accessibility in the spaces you work and live beforesomeone would need it.
      • For instance, is your classroom or workplace easily navigated by someone with a physical disability? Are resources and accommodations easily accessible or would someone have to go searching for them? By listening to the barriers people with disabilities face, we can learn how to best support an environment that is inclusive and accessible to all.

To find out what else happened This Day in History, visit


Sources 2021. Introduction to the ADA. [online] Available at: <> 2021. [online] Available at: <> 2021. ADA Video Gallery. [online] Available at: <>

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