The ADA’s unfulfilled promise

California is going backward, not forward

After 20 years, the Americans with Disabilities Act remains a work in progress. For one thing, its mandates apply mostly to new construction, which means accessibility increases only as fast as buildings and roads are built. Still, it’s amazing how far we’ve come and how much easier it is for the 51 million disabled Americans to get around and lead normal lives. America is the world leader in this regard.

The act has also been good for the able-bodied among us. You know those corner curb cuts that make it easier for a parent pushing a stroller to cross the street? Those wall buttons that open doors when your arms are full of books? They exist because of the ADA.

Unfortunately, in California life is getting harder for many disabled people. That’s because budget cuts are making it more difficult for them to get the services they need to live productive lives. For example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed eliminating the In-Home Supportive Services program, which funds home care for more than 400,000 disabled people who need assistance with such activities as cooking and cleaning.

And programs for the mentally ill in this state are abysmal—underfunded and inadequate in every respect. That’s why so many mentally disabled Californians end up living in the facility of last resort—jail.

The ADA represents what is best about America—its commitment to inclusion and its fundamental compassion—and has fostered many positive changes, but we still have a long way to go to fulfill its promise.