Celebrating 30 years of the Americans with Disabilities Act

July 30, 2020

This week we are celebrating the 30-year anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which became law in 1990.

The ADA was the result of decades of campaigning by the community of people with disabilities. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in the workplace, at school, while accessing transportation and in many other areas of life, including health care. It was a landmark victory in the disability rights movement. One way to celebrate the anniversary of the ADA is to learn about the history of disability rights in America, which includes a variety of instances of legislative advocacy.

The community of people with disabilities campaigned for sections in the 1973 Rehabilitation Act that addressed discrimination against people with disabilities. Section 504, which prohibited the exclusion of people with disabilities from programs that received federal funding, was written but went unsigned until the 504 sit-ins pushed for change in 1977. The National Council on Disability’s publication of the Towards Independence report led to the creation of the ADA, which was finally passed in March 1990 after a final push by disability advocates and the Capital Crawl.

The ADA, and the legislation that came before it, was passed because people with disabilities demanded equal rights. In the past 30 years, advocates have continued to campaign for and pass legislation supporting people with disabilities. WSHA has prioritized equitable access to care in our government affairs and safety and quality work. In the 2020 legislative session, we secured funding for two pilot programs for partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient behavioral health services for children and adolescents on Medicaid. And after seven years of WSHA’s advocacy, the Legislature finally passed telemedicine payment parity legislation, which significantly expands access options medical and behavioral health care. WSHA has also supported patients with disabilities’ rights to translation and interpretation services while receiving care. WSHA is working with hospitals to identify disparities in clinical outcomes that are related to race, ethnicity and language as well as the impact of implicit bias on health outcomes. Once identified we develop action plans to help hospitals address the disparities to improve health outcomes and close the gaps.

During COVID-19 – which is disproportionately impacting many marginalized communities – ensuring people with disabilities receive equitable access to care is especially crucial. WSHA Washington State Department of Health have just last week published statewide guidance addressing the presence of support persons in health care settings for patients with disabilities. As part of infection control and patient safety measures, many hospitals are limiting hospital visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as discussed in the guidance, the presence of a support person is essential for patients with physical, intellectual, and/or developmental disabilities and for patients with cognitive disabilities.

I invite you to consider hosting an in-depth (virtual) staff training on caring for people with disabilities, sharing resources for patients with disabilities and staying up-to-date on legislative care requirements during COVID. WSHA supports our members in this work, and have compiled health equity COVID resources on the WSHA website.

It is my pleasure to be part of a health care community that is committed to equitable access to high-quality care. I look forward to continuing to work with WSHA members to strengthen the care options available to Washingtonians.


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Washington State Hospital Association
999 Third Avenue
Suite 1400
Seattle, WA 98104

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