ADA: Keeping the Promise

Making a Difference will feature five guest columns by Johnson on the legacy of the ADA and how national and state groups are commemorating the anniversary. This is the fifth and last installment.

ADA: Keeping the Promise
By Mark Johnson

I took a deep breath and then a vacation. For three years, I’d been consumed by ADA25 and bringing the 25th celebration of the Americans with Disabilities Act to life. A 35-plus city tour turned into over 100 cities, 33 states and 23,000 miles with 25 strategic partners. It was a beautiful experience and I want to thank everybody who participated.

In my first column of this series, I quoted John Kemp, who said:

“I see ADA25 as another starting point. A starting point for educating employers about the talented workers with disabilities they are leaving on the sidelines. A starting point for changing mindsets so others welcome our differences and recognize our similarities. A starting point to rally our next generation of disability rights leaders and advocates. Let’s use this next year to bring attention to and acknowledge influential individuals with disabilities who are today’s mentors and role models so that young people with disabilities see the extraordinary leaders that they themselves can relate to – leaders with disabilities they can aspire to become.”

So, did we use ADA25 as a new starting point? On July 26th, the National Council on Disability (NCD) presented the 2015 National Disability Policy: A Progress Report that brought to attention the work we have ahead of us for making Employment First a reality for people with disabilities.

“NCD envisions a future in which all people with disabilities are afforded the same opportunities for inclusive, competitive employment as are those without disabilities. This will require changes in discriminatory thinking, particularly in the views on the ability of people with disabilities to perform in the workplace. At present, the percentage of people with disabilities who are employed is still astonishingly low. In May 2015, only 19.8 percent of people with disabilities were participating in the labor force compared with 68.8 percent of people without disabilities. For those people with disabilities who did enter the workforce, though, the unemployment rate was at 10.1 percent, twice as high as the national average for people without disabilities at 5.1 percent. (U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015). These numbers point to a stark employment picture for people with disabilities. For us as a nation, this is unacceptable.”

The Report also laid out a vision for the next 25 years of what disability rights should look like, what advocates should fight for and how much more work there is to do.

It focused on the ADA Generation, the youth who were born after the law’s passage and now are being called upon to advocate and fight for the next 25 years – or the 50th anniversary of the ADA.

“Although our country has made great progress in shaping practices that align with the ADA and other related legislation, much work remains to be done in order for us to realize a fully inclusive society. Although youth and young adults with disabilities were born into a post-ADA environment, far too many have not experienced the civil rights for equitable access that federal legislation was enacted to protect.

NCD’s hope for the 50-year anniversary of the ADA is that the role of the disability advocate will shift to that of advisor to policymakers, technologists, industry, educators and others who themselves are intrinsically motivated to incorporate provisions found in disability legislation throughout their professional practices. This section outlines NCD’s vision for a society that has benefited from such practices. It reflects a national perspective by highlighting policy areas addressed in this report. NCD’s vision also extends to a global society, which aligns with the contributions that the ADA made to the development of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).”

Our mission this past year was to preserve, educate and celebrate the ADA. But also, we wanted to bring attention to and acknowledge influential individuals with disabilities and engage youth leaders. Did we do that?

Yes, we experienced the convergence of the past, present and future. But as we move ahead towards advocating for employment, housing, transportation and more, it is important not to drift back into our silos now that the 25th anniversary is coming to close.

The years will tally, but we have to remember how we got to the 25th year in the first place: advocacy.

Countless advocates, for over 25 years, have made a difference for the lives of people with disabilities. And as we celebrate, we must continue the work of our pioneers for the next 25 years so we, as a community, can live in inclusive and independent communities with self-determination.

“Equally as important, it reflects the significant role of disability advocates along with state and local government officials who translate the spirit and letter of the ADA and other federal legislation into practice.”

The ADA Legacy Project is working on archiving ADA25 and developing a national public relations initiative. Follow the action at and

Mark Johnson is the director of advocacy for the Shepherd Center, the top spinal cord & brain injury rehabilitation hospital in the nation. Johnson also serves as the council chair for The ADA Legacy Project.

Read more articles in the fall issue of Making a Difference here:


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