Marking the Americans With Disabilities Act’s 20th anniversary: Wheelchair ramps another facet of everyday America


Posted on September 8, 2010

Wheelchair ramps, under the influence of the Americans With Disabilities Act, have become such a part of the national culture that it’s hard to recall how closed much of America was before the law was enacted on July 26, 1990.

The law requires that virtually all public spaces be accessible to those who use wheelchairs. It also mandates that most public events be heard by those with impaired hearing through the use of assistive-listening devices or sign-language interpreters. And it has opened classrooms to children previously thought unable to participate in traditional schooling.

Probably nowhere is the ADA’s influence more noticeable than in transportation systems. Buses and trains are outfitted so that people who use wheelchairs can be accommodated.

It’s impossible to overestimate the significance of the law’s impact on the daily lives of people with impaired mobility. To be shut off from movies and theater, deprived of access to town hall and the library, excluded from sporting venues – this is a life half-lived – or not at all. But it remains the norm in most countries of the world, where the needs of people with disabilities are neither understood nor responded to.

Consider the possibilities open to a person in a wheelchair. Most jobs that can be reached by public transportation are now within reach, though transit systems still tolerate unacceptable breakdowns on escalators and elevators, which are lifelines. Because ADA regulations prevail across the country, a trip can be planned with the expectation that accessibility is guaranteed at the destination.

Historic sites now have ramps and hearing devices. In some areas, scenic paths and even the beach can be reached by specially designed ramps and pathways that accommodate wheelchairs.

Ramps are so common that we often fail to notice them, but they presented a challenge when the law was first passed. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for providing access to buildings that were constructed long before the Americans with Disabilities Act could have been foreseen.

Many municipalities have taken special care to erect ramps at town hall or school buildings that are in keeping with existing styles. And progress providing access to public buildings has led to more options to make private homes accessible.

Wheelchair ramps can be rented or purchased and custom designed to overcome challenges like hills and porches without major structural changes to the existing home of building. As a result, those who use wheelchairs have a wide range of living choices; they do not have to be in an elevator-equipped building if that does not suit them.

The advent of the ADA was met with understandable consternation by those who would have to alter their places of business to comply with the law. Many believed it went too far. But two decades of experience have shown that the benefits far outweigh any cost or inconvenience.

Tags: ramps, wheelchair ramps