Celebrating 30 Years of the ADA

July 26 marks the 30th anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

This legislative anniversary should be recognized and remembered as an important historic milestone among structured settlement and settlement planning professionals who advise personal injury victims and their families.

The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability requiring covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities and also imposes accessibility requirements for public accommodations. For people with disabilities, including personal injury victims, this transformative civil rights law guarantees access to transportation, jobs, schools and public places the same as everyone else.

Every structured settlement and settlement planning professional should be familiar with the ADA. The National Structured Settlement Trade Association (NSSTA) is a sponsor of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) and Eric Vaughn, NSSTA’s Executive Director, is a member of the AAPD’s Board of Directors.

During the past week, the New York Times has published a series of articles (subscription required) which explores how the ADA “has shaped modern life for people with disabilities in the 30 years since it was passed.” Although each of the articles is worth reading, what follows are brief summaries of three articles this writer found most interesting.

“‘Nothing About Us Without Us’: 16 Moments in the Fight for Disability Rights – by Julia Carmel

From the earliest disability law in the United States, pensions guaranteed for men wounded in the Revolutionary War, to the most recent specialized communities being developed by disability activists, the history of disability rights in the United States represents a fascinating story. Highlights include the activist Ed Roberts who inspired the first Center for Independent Living; the 504 Sit-in; the Gang of 19 and ADAPT; the Capital CrawlOlmstead v. L.C.ADA and the Internet; and the Ruderman Study on Police Brutality and Disability.

None of the stories in this article offers a more relevant lesson for the structured settlement industry than “Deaf President Now”, about Gallaudet University in Washington, a liberal arts college for deaf people, which had never had a deaf President until 1988. When Gallaudet appointed yet another president who was not deaf on March 6, 1988, a student protest erupted which became known as “Deaf President Now” and a new deaf President was appointed. Perhaps similar logic will one day be applied to the selection of structured settlement annuity providers.

What the A.D.A. Means to Me – by Kaitlyn Wells

Judy Heumann, a disability rights activist and leader in the disability community is the co-author of “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist,” with Kristen Joiner, and is featured in the award-winning Netflix documentary “Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution.”

This short essay is based on an interview of Ms. Heumann who when she was 18 months old in 1949 learned she had polio. She was denied the right to go to school because the staff did not know how to accommodate a student who could not walk. Later, when she was denied a teaching license, she filed a lawsuit and won – which began her career in policy work and advocacy.

Although Ms. Heuman appreciates what the ADA and the disability community have already achieved, she believes there is still work to do . “The way society thinks about disability needs to evolve, as too many people view disability as something to loathe or fear. By changing this mentality, by recognizing how disabled people enrich our communities, we can all be empowered to make sure disabled people are included.

Disability Pride: The High Expectations of a New Generation – by Joseph Shapiro

This article discusses “the ADA generation”, at least 20 million people with disabilities, according to the U.S. Census Bureau — who, unlike Judy Heumann and other disability pioneer activists, grew up knowing the transformative civil rights law as a birthright. This current generation of disabled individuals “expects the law to guarantee, not just promise, that they will get access to transportation, jobs, schools and other public places and to the same opportunities as anyone else.

Among the new leaders is Maria Town, 33, who has cerebral palsy and is president and chief executive of the AAPD. The earlier generation modeled their movement after “the civil rights struggle of the ’60s and the women’s rights struggle of the ’70s,” said Town. Members of the ADA generation, she said, “are informed by the marriage equality movement, the fight for the Affordable Care Act and are informed by the Black Lives Matter movement.

In closing, the American with Disabilities Act is a major legislative milestone worth remembering and continuing to celebrate. What impact, if any, the changing expectations and demands of the ADA Generation will have on structured settlements going forward is a question worth considering.

This article is part 4 of a 6-part retrospective series where key legislation and decisions that have impacted the structured settlement industry are analyzed and revisited. 

  1. Revisiting Periodic Payments of Judgments
  2. Considering the Uniform Periodic Payment of Judgments Act: Part I
  3. Considering the Uniform Periodic Payment of Judgments Act: Part II
  4. Considering the Uniform Periodic Payment of Judgments Act: Conclusion
  5. Celebrating 30 Years of the ADA
  6. Revisiting the Grillo Case