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How the Civil Rights Act Empowered the Disability Community of Today
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How the Civil Rights Act Empowered the Disability Community of Today

The United States of America recently marked the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the landmark legislation that outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. While the civil rights struggle of the 1960s that many African Americans faced during that time is usually the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of the Civil Rights Act, the struggle for people with disabilities is a fight that many of us have still been facing despite the 1964 groundbreaking legislation.

The Civil Rights Act paved the way for the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, the civil rights law that prohibited discrimination based on disability. Prior to this legislation, people with disabilities simply had to accept the way the world was: barriers, inaccessibility, job discrimination, and unequal opportunities.

Thanks to the ADA, the US has seen improvements like adding ramps to public buildings, giving children equal opportunity to attend school and receiving the modifications they needs, and creating fair housing and equal opportunity. Thanks to the ADA, we see braille on signage, have the right to request a sign language interpreter during legal proceedings, and call out employers who discriminate against us during a job interview.

Despite all these great improvements in the last 50 years since the Civil Rights Act, and the last 20+ years since the ADA, we still have a long way to go. It’s much easier to eliminate physical barriers (like steps), add ramps and push button doors to buildings than it is to break down mental and attitudinal barriers.

Today, disability is still viewed as something undesirable, less than, and something that needs to be ‘fixed.’ Even though illegal, many of us feel the ‘no’ as we walk into a job interview, having preconceived notions about our ability overcome our great qualifications and great answers to tough questions; we feel the stares in public, we hear the sighs of annoyance as taxi drivers need to accommodate our wheelchairs, and we see the uncomfortable looks on faces as people try to be politically correct.

Legislation can not necessarily combat attitudes, stereotypes, and preconceived notions. It’s up to us, individuals to keep fighting the good fight. While we have made leaps and bounds over what the disability community faced back in 1964, we still have a lot of work to do.

If you’re someone with a disability, keep getting out there. Don’t let bad attitudes, stares, and discrimination stop you – the more of a presence we have in our communities, the more we can change attitudes little by little and make it known that we are a part of our town, our cities, our countries, and our world. Just like Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus, refuse to give in. Call people out when inappropriate comments are made. Write letters to your legislators when you see discrimination happening. Get out and vote in every election. It’s up to we the people to keep making progress so we do not go back to how things were in 1964.

How have you seen things change since the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the 1990 ADA legislation? Do you think things are better or worse for the disability community? What other things can we keep doing to make progress? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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