Access Living CEO Karen Tamley Reflects on the 30th Anniversary of the ADA


July 24, 2020 | by Karen Tamley


Karen Tamley

President and CEO

(312) 640-2100

Access Living friends and allies:

Today, I reflect on the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the work still ahead in a letter to the editor in the Chicago Sun-Times. You can find it here or read it below.

This Sunday, July 26, marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the largest piece of civil rights legislation yet to pass. It broke down barriers for people with all types of disabilities, opening access to transportation, education, recreation, business, employment and more.

I had the privilege of being at the White House when President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. Little did I understand then – as a wheelchair user – how the stroke of his pen would fundamentally change my life, and the lives of millions of disabled people.

As a child, I wasn’t allowed to attend my public elementary school due to my disability. I couldn’t board a bus because they did not have wheelchair lifts. Simply crossing a street independently was impossible due to the lack of curb ramps. My friends lifted my wheelchair up the steps of stores and restaurants because they weren’t required to be accessible.

The ADA took a sledgehammer to these barriers. Now, my 14-year-old disabled daughter is growing up in a world that’s more accessible than the one I experienced. Yet, as we commemorate phenomenal progress for people with disabilities, there’s still much work to be done.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequities disabled people have long faced. The death-rate has soared for those with underlying health conditions we know as disabilities, particularly for Black and brown people. As the virus spreads throughout nursing homes and institutions that segregate disabled people, it has exposed how desperately we need investments in community-based services.

Disabled people are disproportionately unemployed, and in Chicago the poverty rate is twice as high for disabled people compared to people without disabilities. These are stark reminders that the promises of the ADA have yet to be fulfilled.

This anniversary, it’s important to reflect on and celebrate progress. But it’s also a time to address the urgent needs and systemic barriers that remain for our community: lack of economic opportunity and access to affordable, accessible housing and healthcare to name a few.

People with disabilities must lead the way, but we also need leaders in government, business, philanthropy and other justice movements to recognize that all of us will likely benefit from the ADA at some point in our lives, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to advance disability rights.

Karen Tamley

President and CEO
Access Living