In the United States, people with disabilities enjoy a wide range of legal protections at federal, state and local levels. These disabilities may be physical, but are sometimes intellectual or sensory. The well-organized disability rights movement in the United States sprang out of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The movement has had a considerable level of success in changing American attitudes towards people formerly called “handicapped.” Today, discrimination based on disability sits at the same level as discrimination based on race, religion, sex, or national origin.
The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 mandated that all organizations receiving federal funding provide a range of accessibility programs and services for disabled people. A more far-reaching law is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. Under this law, state and local governments, labor unions, and most employers may not discriminate against people with disabilities in hiring, firing, job training and compensation. These organizations must go to reasonable lengths to provide physical access to disabled people, adding ramps next to steps, for example, or maintaining disabled-friendly restroom facilities. Other organizations that must accommodate disabled people include schools, public transportation providers, restaurants, hotels, retail stores and many others. The modifications must be “readily achievable,” meaning reasonable in cost for the organization, a standard that often leads to legal wrangling. A small neighborhood restaurant may need to put a “handicapped parking” space directly in front if its entrance and nothing more, while a large chain restaurant may be forced to install special access ramps.
Many businesses and organizations take great care to accommodate the disabled with special parking spaces, convenient ramps in public buildings, kneeling busses and other devices. Newer buildings have signs and elevator buttons in Braille for blind people. They may even have talking elevators. Some communities have talking or beeping pedestrian crossing signals for the blind.
While politically, the disabled, and the non-disabled people who support them, act as a cohesive unit, people with specific disabilities do tend to identify with others who share their experience. All these groups have specific support groups and specific organizations designed to help them. Good examples are the organizations that provide recorded books for the blind, or those that subsidize physical therapy for stroke victims.
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