Ac·ces·si·ble (ak-ses-e-bel) adj.: Easily approached or entered.

An extremely significant anniversary in our nation’s history was recently observed, and most Americans passed the day completely unaware. Sixteen years ago, on June 26, 1990, President George Herbert Walker Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. The purpose of the law was to establish equal accessibility to public and commercial facilities, as well as to ensure access to transportation, employment opportunities, government services, and communication. The former head of state then referred to the initiative as “a dramatic renewal not only for those with disabilities but for all of us, because along with the precious privilege of being an American comes a sacred duty to ensure that every other American’s rights are also guaranteed.”

Currently, there are an estimated 54 million Americans with disabilities—approximately 18% of the population—who must struggle with their unique challenges on a daily basis.

While this legislation was an important step forward in creating a focus on the day-to-day hardships of individuals with disabilities, the act in itself was not enough to solve their problems. The efforts to standardize accessibility have not been simple. Over the last 16 years, as with many government programs, the ADA has demonstrated its share of shortcomings. Many plans have fallen victim to lack of funding, lack of enforcement, and traditional bureaucratic procrastination. Also, according to recent figures from the US Census Bureau, individuals with severe disabilities were reported to be among those Americans with the lowest employment rate.

However, on the upside, countless improvements have been made to educational curricula, parks and recreational systems, public transportation, and communication devices. Also, many communities continue to implement easily accessed thoroughfares and centers. In addition, the passage of the ADA has enhanced the opportunity of disabled Americans to function in the world of the able bodied.

The ADA would not have been passed and successfully initiated into legislation had it not been for the tireless efforts of patients’ advocates, including physical and occupational therapists, researchers, speech-language pathologists, nurses, and industry innovators. The documentation and testimonies of these physical medicine and rehabilitation professionals were instrumental in bringing to light needs of the disabled community.

It seems current President George W. Bush intends to carry on his father’s noble cause. As, in a recent speech honoring the initiation of the ADA , Bush stated, “On this anniversary of the ADA, we underscore our commitment to ensuring that the fundamental promises of our democracy are accessible to all our citizens.”

—Rogena Schuyler Silverman