July 29th, 2016
ADA isn’t just a tool I’ve used in every law school clinic and legal internship so far. It’s the ground I walk on, the air I breathe. The anniversary of ADA’s passage and my birthday are so close that we could have a tandem party, but I’m a couple of years younger. It turned 26 a couple of days ago. Next week, I turn 24. I’ve heard stories of life before it. I had a dyslexic grandfather who grew up long before there was even the Rehabilitation Act, while whispers of American eugenics were still in the air, but I haven’t known any other world than this.
I’ve barely known a world where I didn’t understand the need for sweeping federal disability rights statutes like ADA. ADA, unfolded to full size by its regs and bootstrapped further outward through case law like Olmstead into hope for hundreds of thousands of people, is beautiful. Even the regs, many of them, are beautiful. I’m still a student, still very new to this, and I already know that regs aren’t usually beautiful. It isn’t just swords and shields for lawyers. ADA is a stronghold in which people with disabilities can live our lives. It helps us maintain bodily liberty and civil liberties, go to school, work, raise families, do things we enjoy, and generally get by without being subjected to harassment, barriers, and indignities at random and with no recourse.
It doesn’t protect everyone perfectly all the time, but we’re infinitely better off than we would be without it. Disability is met with ignorance, mostly, low expectations, and failure to make even inexpensive modifications and accommodations that just plain make sense, but hate is out there, too. Even in stable, wealthy, democratic societies, there are those who wish we would just “disappear.” Every so often, one of those people feels the need to issue us a reminder. That hatred, and the indifference that allows it to fester and sometimes explode, are American problems, too. If you’re not convinced, read the comments on any English-language news source with a primarily U.S. audience that covered the massacre. See the serious bigots and trolls. See, almost worse, the armchair philosophers discussing the value of certain kinds of people and whether it was really so wrong.
I like ADA commemorations because the disability community needs more celebrations, but that was unusually hard to enjoy this year. It was too easy to remember just how tenuously-permitted disabled existence is. The forces just outside of the laws that shelter our lives, those of general applicability and those specifically dealing with disabled people, felt a little too close for comfort, a little too ready to break through.