July 26, 2021, marks the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act! Every year the Disability Community celebrates this day because the Americans with Disabilities Act is, as Justin Dart put it, “the world’s first declaration of equality for people with disabilities.”
31 years later, we recognize that while the ADA did not solve all the problems that people with disabilities experience, it has truly increased access and opportunities for disabled people across our nation. At the same time, far too many businesses continue to deny access to people with disabilities. That’s why my theme for this year’s anniversary is “31 Years is Enough Notice.”
The ADA and Business Owners
Many businesses claim that they are inaccessible because they are not aware that they are required to provide equal access to their buildings, programs and services. The problem with this is that the Americans with Disabilities Act has been around for 31 years. There is no valid reason that a business owner should not know about the laws that they are required to comply with. It’s simple: if you want to be in business, you must know what you’re required to do by law and you must abide by the law. I am beyond sick of hearing the excuse that business owners “didn’t know” they had to be accessible or that they cannot discriminate.
If a business does not pay taxes, they cannot claim that they did not know they were required to pay taxes. That excuse will not stop the federal government from doling out consequences for not complying with the law. The same goes for violating the ADA. If a business isn’t accessible or discriminates against a disabled person, pleading ignorance is not an excuse.
Fighting Discrimination against the Bar Association
In 2014, when I was a fresh faced lawyer right out of law school, I wanted to attend an event put on by the Young Lawyer’s Section of the Dade County Bar Association. I was informed that the event was being held in an inaccessible location. I was rightfully upset because it wasn’t just anyone violating my rights; it was other lawyers and the Bar Association. Florida’s Chief Justice Ricky Polston wrote a letter to all Florida Bar Associations as a result of the discrimination I experienced, and he aptly stated: “Benign neglect, oversight, or indifference which produces this type of discrimination is simply not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”
Now, seven years after Chief Justice Polston made that statement, and on the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, I remain firm in my stance. There is no excuse for businesses to be inaccessible or to discriminate against disabled people because 31 years is more than enough notice. It’s time to comply with the ADA!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador advisor for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She uses an Edge 3 Power Wheelchair for mobility. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.