Equality Laws in the United States

Guide dog is helping blind people in motion blur.

Of the civil rights laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into legislation in 1990, is the primary law protecting people with disabilities. Over the past few decades, the ADA has gone through amendments for clarity and relevance.

One of those changes combines the ADA with the Office of Civil Rights for enforcement and oversight while giving autonomy to each human rights law and act. Many federal and local statutes protect people from discrimination. But, protecting the rights of people with disabilities was always an amendment. It was not the initial intention of the Act until the ADA. But is there any issue with that, seeing as disability rights are human rights?

People with disabilities omitted from Civil Rights laws in the US

For example, the Fair Housing Act of 1968 protects people from housing discrimination based on sex, national origin, race, and religion. However, it took twenty years (1988) for people with disabilities to be protected under the Fair Housing Act.

The Equal Employment Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968 also omitted people with disabilities. And, neither made amendments to include disabilities. In 1973, the Rehabilitation Act did include people with disabilities but only for federally-funded organizations. It wasn’t until the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 that people with disabilities were put first in a United States civil rights law.

As you can see, our legislation hasn’t always upheld and protected people with disabilities in civil rights.

Why doesn’t the US combine and update Civil Rights laws?

How does the US keep the ADA relevant?

The Department of Justice (Office of Civil Rights) used to take complaints seriously and seek resolution for people who felt violated. However, this practice is a political hot button. So, more Americans are taking their claims to the court system for an official ruling of interpretation and implementation.

chalkboard with “equality” written on it
chalkboard with “equality” written on it

What can the US learn from others on disability law?

The United Kingdom worked hard on the definitions of each law and in the execution of the intention. For example, the regulation of braille is different. The ADA requires braille for people who read braille. The quality of the braille, grade, and layout are not regulated. However, the Equality Act works with The UK Association for Acceptable Formats (UKAAF)to set the standards for quality braille. The UKAAF controls braille standards from start to finish. This includes proofreading, braille grade, font size, layout, and ease of reading to highlight the intention of the text received by the reader needing braille. If the ADA had a clear set of guidelines, like the UK, braille consumers could receive a better product. Ultimately, businesses purchasing braille would have greater confidence in the quality of the communication that consumers are receiving.

The Courts Decide

As the ADA enters 30 years of requiring equal access for Americans with disabilities, it is likely that case law will continue to determine accessibility over new legislation.

This post was written by Christine Sket.

Originally published at https://brailleworks.com on July 16, 2020.

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