If you’ve ever used audible crosswalk signals, braille signage, or accessible smartphone apps to help you live more independently, you have the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to thank.

In 1990, the United States took a big step towards ensuring equal rights and opportunities for individuals with disabilities by enacting the ADA. Now, as we celebrate the 33rd anniversary of the ADA’s passage, let’s look at how the blind and low-vision community has benefited from the legislation.

Thanks to the ADA, blind individuals now have greater access to public spaces, services, and facilities. Public buildings, including schools, libraries, and government offices, are required to be equipped with accommodations like Braille signage, tactile maps, and audible signals.

Getting to those places is also easier now because of accessible design in our cities. Tactile bumps to mark the location of crosswalks, audible walk signals, and stop announcements on public transportation let people with vision loss navigate their communities with more confidence.

A less visible, but vitally important aspect of the ADA is how it prohibits discrimination in hiring based on ability. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations, such as providing accessible software or assistive technologies, to ensure equal opportunities for blind employees. The ADA encourages inclusive hiring practices, promoting diversity and allowing blind individuals to showcase their skills and talents. As a result, blind individuals have gained access to a wider range of employment opportunities.

UC Berkeley protest in the 1970s a woman in a wheelchair holds a poster that reads: EVERYBODY NEEDS EQUAL RIGHTS / Photo by Raymond Lifchez.

The Americans with Disabilities Act played a major part in empowering blind individuals to overcome barriers, pursue their dreams, and actively participate in all aspects of life. The changes it brought about make it easier for people with vision loss to navigate the world and find fulfilling careers. The work is not done, however. The ADA was written in a pre-digital age, and there is a lot of murkiness around how it applies to digital spaces. As digital equity becomes more of a focus, we hope to see an updated ADA for the 21st century.

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