Disabilities Act: When Politics Had Meaning

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Byline: Sriram Kh For the Register-Guard

The United States' current dysfunctional politics reminds me of the contrast with a serious piece of history-making legislation: the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was signed into law in July 1990.

I was in graduate school in Los Angeles and in the early phase of getting to know the new country when the ADA was introduced in Congress. The idea of the act appealed to me as noble: that people with disabilities ought to be accommodated so that they, too, can rise to their potential and freely engage in the pursuit of happiness.

Having grown up in India, I had witnessed at close quarters many different ways in which friends and relatives were restricted, sometimes literally to within their homes, because of disabilities. A distant uncle, for instance, who lost his eyesight as a young adult became practically unwanted in his own family because he had become a "burden." India's public spaces are daily reminders of the extreme challenges in everyday life for those who lack full physical abilities.

If a great society is identifiable by how it takes care of those with limitations of any kind, then the unfolding of the ADA - from the introduction of the bill to its implementation, which continues - has been a story about which we truly can be proud.

The ADA was not without its opponents. While it was an academic exercise for me to learn in coursework about how cost-benefit analysis is employed in public policymaking, it sounded quite awful when critics argued that the ADA would increase costs. Claims that the law would become a mandate conveniently overlooked the reality that those with disabilities were being treated as less than equals. When religious institutions were concerned that they would be forced to accommodate disabled people by spending money on structural changes to their buildings, I was struck by how much they seemed to be going against their own fundamental teachings on how human beings should be treated.

The bill eventually passed and became the law of the land, despite a divided government then - the U. …