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20th Anniversary of Americans with Disabilities Act

Over 50 million Americans, or 1 in 5 people, are living with at least one disability, and most Americans will experience a disability some time during the course of their lives. These Americans are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has helped remove or reduce many social and physical barriers for people with disabilities.

On July 26, 2010, the 20th anniversary of the ADA is celebrated. Signed into law by President George H. Bush, the ADA protects the civil rights of people with disabilities. The legislation established a clear and concise national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Over the last 20 years, the ADA has expanded opportunities for individuals in the community by reducing barriers, changing perceptions, and increasing participation in community life.

Photo: A man taking a wheelchair out of his car.ADA guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in:

  • Employment
  • Public accommodations
  • Transportation
  • State and local government services
  • Telecommunications

Since the ADA was enacted in 1990, opportunities have been expanded for people with disabilities to be more empowered, independent, active, and contributing consumers and members of the workforce and their communities. For example, people with disabilities go to school and attend places of worship. They also vote, marry, have children, work, and play sports. However, more work is needed to be done to enable people with disabilities to become even more independent and involved in their world.

Improving the Health and Wellness of People with Disabilities

Good health is important to work, learn, and fully participate in society. Having a disability does not mean a person is not healthy or that he or she cannot be healthy.

People with disabilities face many barriers to good health. They need health care and health programs for the same reasons anyone else does—to stay well, active, and a part of the community. That means having the tools and information to make healthy choices and knowing how to prevent illness.

Disabilities and Related Health Conditions

There are many types of disabilities, such as those that affect a person’s hearing, vision, movement, learning, communication with others, or social relationships. Disabilities can affect different people in different ways. Studies show that people with disabilities are more likely than people without disabilities to report:

  • Poorer overall health
  • Less access to adequate health care
  • Smoking and physical inactivity

People with disabilities often are at greater risk for health problems that can be prevented. These problems (also called secondary conditions) can include pain, depression, and a greater risk for certain illnesses.

Access to the Best Health Care

Photo: A person with a impaired vision walking with a cane.Being healthy means the same thing for all of us; for people with disabilities, it also means knowing that health problems related to a disability can be treated.

Health professionals need to be aware of how to effectively communicate with patients who have a range of disabilities, including people who are deaf or hard of hearing, or who have a speech, vision, or intellectual disability.

Sometimes, we take things for granted — like being able to open a door, climb stairs, fill out a form, or see or hear someone. For people with disabilities, getting health care can be difficult because of lack of access.

Access can include parking spaces close to entrances, well-placed ramps or curb cuts, and doors that are wide and easy to open so that people with disabilities can get into buildings. Once inside, people with disabilities need access to counters and exam tables that are low enough to reach, print that is large enough to read, and equipment that is easy to use.

Accessibility applies to both communication and physical access. Learn more about access to health care and general accessibility for people with disabilities.

What You Can Do

You can do a lot to improve the health and wellness of people with disabilities:

  • See the whole person, not just the disability.
  • Ask the person with a disability if he or she needs any help. Do not assume help is needed.
  • Respect what a person with a disability can do. See the ability in disability.

Learn more about what you can do.

Learn to speak appropriately and respectfully with and about an individual with a disability. [PDF - 151 KB]

Leadership and Support

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and countless organizations have dedicated resources to improve the health of people with disabilities.

  • Page last reviewed: July 26, 2010
  • Page last updated: July 26, 2010
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs