Video: Barriers remain

By Anchor
CNBC
updated 7/27/2005 12:43:33 AM ET 2005-07-27T04:43:33

Fifteen years ago, on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) went into effect, taking aim at widespread discrimination of people with disabilities. Advocates say the law has brought clear signs of progress, but that view — even today — is hotly disputed.

Heading on a road-trip vacation with his wife and son, Tom Wheaton has many more places he can go, thanks to the landmark law that hesays changed his life.

"For the most part it's positive," says Wheaton. "Access to facilities, sports arenas, even movie theaters — the public accommodations have been great."

Signed by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA is considered one of the most significant civil rights bills in history. It outlawed discrimination and introduced the automatic doors, access ramps and kneeling buses that make life easier for people with disabilities.

But barriers remain. Only 35 percent of those with disabilities have jobs, and only 69 percent have a way to get to one.

Chicago playwright Mike Ervin still can't navigate two small stairs at a storefront on his block, even though the law says he should be able to.

"Sometimes you encounter something that is still inaccessible, especially when it's new, and it shouldn't be that way," says Ervin. "And you feel like we haven't made any progress at all in some places."

Some small business owners are upset, too.

Dave Mock owned a small, saddle-making company in California, until he says lawsuits for alleged ADA violations forced him to shut down.

"I'm angry that I was a target of a lawsuit and made a criminal after the fact, so to speak," says Mock. "I'm operating totally ignorant of any law."

Advocates say the law has raised awareness about accommodating people with disabilities. Moving forward, a bigger hurdle may be not retrofitting stairs, but making sure the federal laws don't fight each other.

Mike Deland says some people with disabilities are still hesitant to find work, knowing the extra income puts their Medicare benefits at risk.

"It's a very complicated two-edged sword," he says, "that you don't want to cut off."

And it's an issue haunting landmark legislation, as it tries to help those with disabilities find their way.

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