The Santa Monica Disabilities Commission, comprised of eleven Santa Monica residents with and without disabilities, celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The ADA is an accommodation and anti-discrimination statute signed into law twenty-five years ago on July 26, 1990.
The ADA is the first comprehensive law protecting people from discrimination in employment based on their disabilities and mandating equal access to public and private services, including transportation. It was a collaborative effort of Democrats, Republicans, the legislative and the executive branches, federal and state agencies, and people with and without disabilities.
The new paradigm advanced by the ADA rejects the “medical model” that having a disability is defective or abnormal. It is said that impairment will eventually be the life experience of every person. In fact, it is estimated that 1 out of 5 people in the U.S. live with what the ADA describes as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”
Disability Law professor and scholar Ann Hubbard argues that “belonging” is a major life activity inherent in the ADA. According to Hubbard, belonging has two qualities: personal relationships containing love and friendship with a shared vision; and social acceptance, which is the respect of others that creates community inclusion and establishes an individual’s “rightful place in the world.”
Since the Santa Monica Disabilities Commission was formed over a decade ago, the Commission has worked to advance belonging as a feature of the good life Santa Monica has to offer people with disabilities.
For example, the Commission has worked with the City to expand access to our lovely beaches by establishing accessible paths across the sand, by making motorized and manual beach chairs available to the public free of charge, and by installing signage to advance the goal of accessibility.
The Commission advocated for the City’s first universally accessible playground – designed so children of all abilities can play together – at South Beach Park; and a second such playground is on its way to the beach at Montana Avenue.
This past May, the Commission co-sponsored Life Rolls On – hundreds participated in the adaptive surfing event for people with spinal cord injuries.
The Commission also works to promote accessibility in our day-to-day lives by partnering with the City to provide accessible transportation, housing, and community facilities, and working to raise awareness about accessibility and the importance of belonging in our schools, the workplace, and the community.
The Santa Monica Disabilities Commission has become a model to other local cities of how to implement belonging in practical and meaningful collaborations and events that simultaneously educate and enfold people into our beautiful community.
The work of expanding rights for people with disabilities is far from over. More work needs to be done in the areas of alleviating poverty and unemployment, and the Commission will continue to advance the rights of people with disabilities to enjoy all Santa Monica has to offer in the decades to come.
Commissioner Marielle Kriesel