Meshea L. Poore, Esq., West Virginia University vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, sent a letter reflecting on the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act noting the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the fact that all disabilities are not obvious or visible.
West Virginia University’s mission statement calls for our campus community to work together to create a diverse and inclusive culture that advances education, healthcare and prosperity for all by providing access and opportunity.
This week we celebrate the 30th anniversary of landmark civil rights legislation that provided the mandate that such access and opportunity must also include people with disabilities.
July 26th marks 30 years since President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, bringing the promise of inclusion and full participation for people with disabilities. Prior to the ADA there was no legal protection that guaranteed people with disabilities privileges and benefits in the areas of employment, transportation and the built environment. Upon listening to people who had experienced systemic exclusion, the bi-partisan ADA was established, and disability rights were finally identified as fundamental civil rights.
Since 1990, WVU has designated ADA Coordinators to ensure equity, inclusion and compliance for people with disabilities participating in our university’s programs, activities and services. Our institutional promise is currently reflected in the policy and accommodation work of the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; the Office of Accessibility Services, which provides services to our students; and the Center for Excellence in Disabilities, which facilitates statewide services to families, individuals with disabilities and the entire Mountain State. WVU also hosts the Job Accommodation Network, a renowned program of the Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of ADA accommodations and the fact that all disabilities are not obvious or visible. It has always been the spirit and intent of the ADA to meet the individual where they are and to remove the barriers to their full and dynamic inclusion. Many people who have never self-identified as having a disability are realizing that the ADA applies to their situation and can offer them access to accommodation and protection.
This week we hosted a lively panel discussion about ADA and where many of our experts see work yet to be done. A recording of that panel discussion is available online.
Indeed, while we celebrate progress made in the past 30 years, we cannot – and must not – rest on past accomplishments. Barriers still exist, both visible and invisible. There are still physical barriers and barriers of policy and procedure that block the way to full participation. We must resolutely turn to the future and sustain the important work of ADA implementation and accountability. Yes, the ADA has changed perceptions and increased participation in campus and community life, but the full promise of the ADA will only be reached if we remain committed to diversity, equity and inclusion as it relates to persons with disabilities. We must continue to find new and better ways for every Mountaineer to participate fully and meaningfully in our campus life and in society. Together, as Mountaineers, we will continue to reach for and demand progress toward true universal accessibility.