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June 9, 2015

The Americans With Disabilities Act at 25: The Highest Expression of American Values

Author Affiliations
  • 1O'Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law, Georgetown University, Washington, DC
JAMA. 2015;313(22):2231-2235. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.6405

Twenty-five years ago, on July 26, 1990, President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a historic moment when the polity gave voice to the nation’s highest ideals. The ADA enshrined in law a social promise of equality and inclusion into all facets of life, while offering an inspiring model that much of the world would come to embrace. As a civil rights law coming in the wake of racial and gender equality legislation, the ADA has had profound symbolic meaning and real-world effects. Its promise of full participation in life stood in marked contrast to the often-impenetrable social and physical barriers that individuals with disabilities faced regarding inclusion in the workplace and public spaces. In sponsoring the ADA, Senator Edward Kennedy described life for persons with disabilities as an “American apartheid.”1 The ADA embodies the highest values of the United States—a compassionate nation with the vision to unleash the vast potential of persons with disabilities and to inspire global social change.

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