Twenty years ago this week the ADA was passed, and since then Americans have learned that it's about more than sidewalk curb cuts and Braille on elevator buttons.
The Americans with Disabilities Act is landmark civil rights legislation that took effect in 1992. For many of the 43 million people who live with disabilities, it was nothing short of a declaration of independence.
It opened doors to education, employment, housing, culture and recreation. It specifically forbids public and private employers from discriminating against job applicants and workers due to disability, bars government from discriminating in programs against people with disabilities, spells out structural requirements for access to public entities, forbids private concerns that do business with the public (like restaurants, hotels and stores) from denying goods and services to those with disabilities and mandates telecommunications devices and services for the hearing- and speech-impaired.
In short, it reshaped the lives of Americans who for too long had been shut out, closed off or closeted away. It codified into law a host of new possibilities for life, work and the pursuit of happiness.
During a forum Monday at Station Square in Pittsburgh marking the law's 20th anniversary, Janet Evans of Glen Hazel, who has cerebral palsy, may have said it best for those liberated by the ADA: "I did not want to sit back and let my wheelchair define me." She and millions of other Americans are now free to define themselves.