The ADA is everyone’s business

Sunday, July 26, marks 30 years since the hot summer day when President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The ADA – one of our country’s broadest pieces of civil rights legislation – was the world's first comprehensive declaration of equality for people with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in life. Its passage, Bush said, marked “another independence day, one that is long overdue.”

On that monumental day three decades ago, Bush told the crowd assembled for the occasion, “This act is powerful in its simplicity. It will ensure that people with disabilities are given the basic guarantees for which they have worked so long and so hard: independence, freedom of choice, control of their lives, the opportunity to blend fully and equally into the rich mosaic of the American mainstream.”

The road to the creation of the ADA leads back to Denver, where 19 disability activists halted downtown traffic for two days in 1978 by blocking the movement of two buses at Broadway and Colfax Avenue. The group – which became known as the Gang of 19 – sought wheelchair accessibility for RTD buses. Their protests drew national attention and began a U.S. movement focused on accessibility for public transportation. 

RTD honors this history and holds accessibility as a core value in all of the agency’s work. It guides everything we do and affects the entirety of the public we serve, regardless of whether they benefit directly from the law. The ADA is everyone’s business. 

Jim de Jong, who steered the ADA through Congress and created the National ADA Symposium, notes that about one in every five people has a disability, whether it is physical, mental, cognitive or developmental or a sensory impairment. He points out that disability is a normal part of the aging process, and that people can experience temporary disabilities, too, such as a ski injury.

“All people are equal. All people share the same hopes and dreams and emotions,” said de Jong, who was paralyzed at 25 from the waist down. “The ADA reminds us of the broader aspects of what civil rights mean. All people have the same dreams, emotions and desires.”

De Jong, who lives in Missouri, has become familiar with RTD service through several trips to Colorado. One of these was to attend the National ADA Symposium in Denver four years ago, an event RTD was instrumental in bringing to the Mile High City and which put the agency on the national map as a supporter of disability rights, ADA law and educational efforts. De Jong praises the multimodal connectivity he experiences throughout RTD’s system and says that concept should be a fundamental consideration for transit agencies everywhere. 

RTD’s Civil Rights division more than five years ago created an ADA office to ensure, monitor and maintain the agency’s commitment to the ADA and U.S. Department of Transportation requirements for accessibility. The ADA office provides guidance and implementation on policies, procedures and strategies that protect the civil rights of people with disabilities. Its staff is constantly working to bring further improvements to RTD services, facilities and programs. The office has a hand in all aspects of RTD business, including staff training, complaint procedures and resolution, reasonable accommodations and modifications, and ADA-compliant design. The number of ADA-related complaints has decreased since the office began tracking and tabulating them in 2018, providing complaint details to department heads and seeing that actions have been taken to remedy issues.

The public can credit the ADA office for its role in initiating, overseeing or being an integral part of several major accomplishments, including the following:

  • The formation of the RTD Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities, which serves as a conduit between the agency’s internal operations and the community.
  • The creation of a procedure for the high block on light rail, to ensure that people with disabilities have priority and that passengers with personal items yield to anyone with a disability.
  • Close work with the city and county of Denver on the 16th Street Mall redesign, including initiating many meetings with disabled organizations to ensure that all perspectives about accessible design are heard on this important project.
  • Enhanced Braille signage at Civic Center Station, following comments from the blind community concerning accessibility in certain areas.
  • Upgrades to the RTD website for accessibility, ensuring that information is accessible to people who are blind or visually impaired.

Each of these and so many other accomplishments “demonstrate collaboration and the involvement of all of RTD that needs to take place,” said Ed Neuberg, RTD’s ADA manager. “All of that is instrumental.”

In considering the importance of the ADA, Neuberg added, “It’s a huge honor to be able to work with this law, and to see the positive impacts it has on everyone’s life.”

Watch the News Stop all week for more stories about RTD’s ADA-related work.

Courtesy Denver Public Library Western History Collection Archives, Rocky Mountain News (1978, July 6)