Americans With Disabilities Act: Looking Back On 20 Years Of Opportunity When commentator Ben Mattlin was growing up, it was legal to discriminate against people like him. Born with spinal muscular atrophy, he's always used a wheelchair. Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which he says transformed his life.

Looking Back On 20 Years Of Disability Rights

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For many disabled Americans, today is an important anniversary. Twenty years ago today, the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect. Some say there's still progress to be made in fully implementing the law, but commentator Ben Mattlin says it literally transformed his life.

BEN MATTLIN: Then, on July 26, 1990, when I was 27, the ADA became law. It didn't get me a job. But it addressed the differences between essential and nonessential job tasks. It identified a reasonable accommodation from an undue hardship - a critical distinction for employers and public places alike. If I encountered a restaurant or store with a 6-inch threshold and no ramp, I had constructive language to use, beyond cursing or crying. Most of all, by recognizing the injustices millions of us were confronting, it provided not just legal recourse, but validation and hope.

ADA: Yes, there is still a long way to go. Yet, in redefining the terms of disability, the ADA made us impossible to ignore. So now people should understand we're just part of the human landscape, and we're here to stay.

GONYEA: Commentator Ben Mattlin lives in Los Angeles, where he's working on a memoir. You can comment on his essay at's Opinion Page.

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