Cause to Celebrate: 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

By Mary Giliberti, J.D. | Jul. 24, 2015

As we celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), I think of the many people whose lives have been transformed by the law and its mandate of non-discrimination. Perhaps none exemplifies the power of this legislation more than artist Lois Curtis, who spent decades of her life in an institution before suing the state of Georgia under the Act, made possible by leading champions in the U.S. Senate and House, including Senators Harkin, Weicker, and Dole and Representatives Hoyer and Coelho.

When I visited Lois in her lovely home in a suburban street outside of Atlanta, I was struck by how different her life was in this community. She had a home, friends and a business selling her art. My family and I were at her home in December 2013 right before I started my current position at NAMI so that I could purchase several paintings for my office. As we left, my daughter asked me, "Why did she have to live in an institution for so long?"


"The Women of Olmstead" by Lois Curtis. Photo: Tracy Coffin

The answer lies in discrimination and the lack of priority that was placed on recovery for people with mental illness. While we still have a long way to go to achieve true equality for people with mental health conditions, the ADA codified what we had known all along—such discrimination is wrong.

In my career as a civil rights litigator, I also challenged discriminatory employment practices that failed to accommodate mental illnesses, unfair limits in insurance products, and warehousing people with mental illness is substandard housing. While I didn't win every case, the ADA provided and still provides a way to raise public awareness and redress the unfair treatment that has historically been imposed on people with mental illnesses in voting, employment, housing, access to mental and physical healthcare, and many other areas.

Today, we know that the war is not won and we have more work to do to make the promise of equality in the ADA a reality. Discrimination persists in areas such as the high unemployment rate, lack of access to treatment, early mortality, and inhumane institutionalization of people with mental illnesses in jails and prisons.

So we take a moment to commemorate and celebrate this monumental civil rights victory of the ADAs passage 25 years ago and rededicate ourselves to implementing its vision of equality and justice. If we are successful, many others like Lois can realize their dreams and contribute their talents and gifts to our communities.

Comments
Francis Kittredge
Whenever I think of the ADA, I feel knives plunging into my back. I have turned to it twice now and in both instances I have been betrayed by it. Mental illness is uniquely and dangerously susceptible to hostility in the workplace. Despite that, and in my case this includes blatant lies about my character, a lawyer told me that the ADA does not protect me. Employers, in other words, are free to attack and damage me however they like. The law supports them and not me. In other words, the ADA exists to protect the abuser, the bully, the monster and not the victim. The ADA is a lie. Americans with Disabilities should just crawl back into their dark basements and stay there so that polite America can proceed without their inconvenience.
8/3/2015 11:30:12 PM

Linda D. Gurley, NAMIVA BOD
NAMIHNN helped Celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the signing of the ADA on June 24th by participating in the ADA Event hosted by Insight Enterprises, Inc. Peninsula Center for Independent Living at the Denbigh Community Center. 15198 Warwick Blvd., Newport News, Va. 23608. State and Local Officials were present to give the history of the ADA and the impact it has had on individuals lives. A proclamation from Hampton City's Mayor was read. The event raised awareness of the need for individuals to continue to advocate for their civil rights, even though some strides have been made. Thank you for all that you do and continue to do to uplift individuals.
7/30/2015 9:12:23 PM

Francis Kittredge
The ADA has been a complete disappointment. IT DOES NOT PROTECT THE MENTALLY ILL! For all its worth, it may not even exist. I had a supervisor say to me, "I don't care about your issues!" I have had others create intentionally hostile environments. Does ADA do any good? Nope. Aside from using it as toilet paper, it's completely useless.
7/30/2015 9:04:47 PM

Pamela Hamburg
While the ADA has good intentions and is a good start, it has no teeth in it. I know several people who have asked their employers for ADA accommodations. They were fired. ADA doesn't help with paying for a lawyer to fight this. That's up to the patient, many of whom do not have that kind of money. Then they go on SSDI (if the can get it).
7/30/2015 4:45:24 PM

Desiree Anne Dudonnet-Olsen
it is so hard to describe to a person, that you don't need to be "in the hospital" and that it was a temporary fix, that you just needed a "breather", so to speak, that you are a well and sane person who temporarily could not function as others, that your depression was a low point, that now and further into the future, you have been helped and never, never tell anyone you are despondent keep this to oneself until the feeling passes......as the stigma isn't worth the "cure", which is usually 6 weeks in an institution........a person needs to not fear their feelings and to be open to help which this stigmatic culture does not provide
7/30/2015 2:45:25 PM

Leslie
I think there is a long way to go. Every job I have applied to online, where I have admitted to my anxiety and depression, I have not heard back from. There are two companies that I have applied to numerous times, but no response. I have chosen to stop saying I have a disability because I do think it is being held against me.
7/30/2015 8:47:25 AM

tracy sausa
I am not aloud information on my brother Philip Massaro
7/25/2015 6:47:20 PM

Kathy Spratt Beck
When I retired early to be on state disability, I was only 43. I felt like, that because I was taking a lot of medication for mental illness, bipolar with mania, depression and so many other health problems, I was practically being told that I could not teach art anymore. No one said a word to me about the ADA. I could have gone back to work, if I had just not listened to my feelings. I am easily led, I usually work my way out of a job, because I gave every job I had ever had 150 percent. I got the bipolar disorder from a head injury at elementary school, at age 12. After many more years of doing everything I could do, I was traumatized by two husbands, adultery & child molestation, ended those and at age 33, I presented with bipolar mania, entered a psych unit of my own free will, to get better so I could return to my family and my job. After getting released to go home, I found out through my first ex's wife, that my daughters had both been molested by my husband, coach, and teacher both in PE in public schools and in the town recreation softball, and a referee for ball games. Everyone thought well of him in our community and at church. Because of past head trauma, trauma in two divorces, and my ancestors...it is also hereditary. No one knew of my illness. It was invisible. My doctor told me I was very high performing bipolar. He was my PCP, not my Psychiatrist. Anyway, I did not know about NAMI. Had I known, maybe my life could have been different. Had my parent known, then maybe I could have been raised in a better environment than the one in which I was reared. Please let me know if there is anyway that can recoup my losses, per se; living with this disease is no different than having diabetes, yet we are shunned and avoided everyday of our lives because people do not understand the disease. It is a disease! Not a person! People have feelings. I have hidden myself away in my adult life. There are people in my past who hurt me emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I have lost interest in my art talent. I feel like what I would paint would not be good enough. I will not join the arts council because there is someone there who hurt me deeply, even stalked me while I was shopping with my husband, to demand that I return something that someone else had borrowed for me from her. Long story short, she got her precious treasure back, but I lost my confidence yet again. I am a survivor of incest and molestation as a child. God is the only father I have had. Here I am at age 54, needing to paint my emotional hurts away. Give me strength! Thank you for reading this. I hope you can see where I am.
7/25/2015 10:00:29 AM

Kathleen MOORE
Thanks for sharing
7/24/2015 10:53:31 PM

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