Happy Independence Month: July 4th & National Disability Independence Day

The month of July reminds us of the importance of independence and freedom from all kinds of oppression with two historic dates of significant impact: July 4, 1776 and July 26, 1990.

The 4th of July celebrates our nation's independence, the foundation on which freedom and autonomy has been built. July 26th, recognized as National Disability Independence Day, commemorates the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Both of these observances share a meaningful connection in the pursuit of independence, freedom and the rights of all individuals, inclusive of those with disabilities.

A side by side image of a graphic that says National Disability Independence Day and a graphic that says happy 4th of July Independence Day.

As we enter July, Ava and our allies continue the march onward to advance the rights and inclusion of people with disabilities to create a society of equity and independence.

Independence for the Disabled Community

Independence Day earmarks a time to honor the insurmountable value of freedom and what it means to live autonomously. The rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence apply to every citizen, so the pursuit to protect equality for the disabled community is a mission any citizen can likely appreciate.

The challenges overcome by the disabled community and the equity advancements they have spearheaded in the past four decades are monumental. From ADA laws to assistive technology, autonomy and avocation for those with disabilities has expanded the meaning of independence. In advocating for our own rights and the rights of others, we contribute to the diverse fabric of American society where all individuals have equal access to opportunity.

As we recognize the progress made and progress in motion, the feat to ensure full inclusion of people with disabilities in every aspect of life warrants commitment to the cause.

Image of declaration on top of American flag.

Image Source: Annenberg Learner

July 26th: National Disability Independence Day  

July 26th symbolizes the collective efforts of the disabled community to protect civil life, their civil rights and to break down common barriers that thwart independence and equality. National Disability Independence Day serves as a celebration of achievements and a call to action for continued advocacy. The holiday is a testament to the resilience, strength and contributions of individuals with disabilities. When the ADA was signed into law in 1990, the landmark legislation took immediate effect protecting individuals with disabilities from discrimination in various aspects of public life.

The American disability movement and the protection of disability rights support economic self sufficiency so that disabled Americans have full access to education and are not hindered by employment discrimination. The American with Disabilities Act is a civil rights law that mandates accommodations in public establishments and in the workplace. Federal funds and tax incentives are available for many forms of accommodations, including: technical assistance, braille signs, wheelchair ramps and sign language interpreters.

Life Before the ADA

Before the ADA was signed, daily life for those with disabilities was riddled with blatant inequities. With no legal protections in place, people with disabilities were denied basic opportunities and faced endless barriers.

Employers had the authority to reject job applicants solely based on disabilities. Meanwhile, disabled individuals who did secure employment often encountered unequal pay. Further inequality and exclusion transcended to restaurants and grocery stores, who had the right to turn customers away if they were disabled.

Video Source: YouTube

Accessibility on public transportation was extremely limited. Wheelchair users were often required to abandon their wheelchairs to board buses or other forms of public transit, hampering their mobility and independence. Additionally, public facilities were not obligated to adhere to physical accessibility guidelines, resulting in many inaccessible public restrooms, stores, and community areas.

These discriminatory practices infringed upon the rights and equal opportunities of people with disabilities. Systemic barriers that impede individuals from fully participating in society can also restrict basic privileges that are often taken for granted.

The list of injustices was long, and yet legal — until the people took it upon themselves to change the law.

The ADA: Supporting Inclusion in America

The guidelines outlined in the ADA have fueled an expansive inclusion movement across the country, initiating remarkable improvements. While the implementation of these improvements has been gradual, the introduction of the ADA was a crucial legal incentive to drive change.

Thanks to the ADA and the technology that supports its law, millions of individuals with disabilities have been able to experience societal integration. Awareness-led activism facilitated change that allows the disabled community to participate in the aspects of life that embody our shared humanity.

The ADA grants legal recognition with an additional layer of protection and tools to combat discrimination by anyone who seeks to marginalize individuals with disabilities. Although further advancements are needed, the ADA has been a transformative force in reshaping attitudes, challenging barriers and fostering a more inclusive and equal society.

Image that says disability independence day with a woman in a wheelchair and the words ability in a different color to stand out alongside another image of a disabled man in front of a pool with text that reads I'm disabled, not unable.

Image Source: Rakuten

Making Celebrations Accessible

This 4th of July and for all celebrations onward, consider how festivities can be accessible to all.

Parades & Events

Parades and events are an integral part of celebrations across the country. Over the past few decades, these festivities have become more accessible to individuals with disabilities — thanks, in part, to the ADA. The legislation requires event organizers to ensure that venues, pathways, and seating areas are accessible to people with mobility impairments. This mandate includes features such as wheelchair ramps, designated accessible seating, and clear pathways to facilitate navigation. In addition, the ADA encourages the provision of accessible restrooms and ensures that event information and announcements are available in accessible formats, such as braille or large print.

Group of diverse disabled people marching holding a sign that says Diversability.

Image Source: My Diversability

Fireworks & Sensory-Friendly Options

Firework displays are synonymous with the 4th of July, but they can present challenges for individuals with sensory sensitivities or certain disabilities. Recognizing that individuals with sensory sensitivities may find traditional fireworks overwhelming, some cities have introduced sensory-friendly options. These displays incorporate adjustments such as lower noise levels, muted visuals, and designated viewing areas. With these accommodations, individuals with sensory processing disorders, autism, or other sensitivities can enjoy fireworks in a more comfortable and inclusive environment.

Communication & Assistive Technology

The ADA also recognizes the importance of communication access for individuals with disabilities. On the 4th of July, public speeches, announcements, and patriotic songs are common. Captioning services play a crucial role in ensuring that individuals who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing can fully understand and engage with verbal speeches or spoken content. Likewise, assistive listening devices and hearing loop systems help individuals with hearing aids or cochlear implants to access and enjoy the auditory elements of celebrations.

Accessible Transportation & Travel

Traveling to attend 4th of July celebrations for individuals with disabilities can pose additional challenges. However, because of the ADA, disabled people now have access to improved transportation options. Public transportation systems, including buses, trains, and subways, are required to have accessible features such as ramps, elevators, and designated seating areas. This way, individuals with mobility impairments can navigate the city and reach celebration venues with greater ease. The ADA has also paved the way for accessible parking spaces, drop-off zones, and curb cuts, making it more convenient for individuals with disabilities to attend events.

Image of some disabled people in front of the white house holding a U.S. flag with an embedded graphic of the disabled symbol on it.

Image Source: NY Times

Continued Advocacy for Inclusion

As progress marches on, advocating for full accessibility and inclusion in all aspects of life remains essential. Advocacy efforts must go beyond physical accessibility and also account for the digital realm. Online event promotions, websites and communication platforms need to be accessible to all individuals, including those who are Deaf and hard-of-hearing, or have visual, cognitive or mobile disabilities.

The Link Between Freedom & Accessibility

As we celebrate these two momentous occasions in July, let us remember that the spirit of independence extends to all members of society, including those with disabilities. This month, take a moment to recognize how the values that represent both of these independence days apply to all Americans — especially those who depend on such values more than others do, to ensure a good quality of life.

A black and white photograph of a parade of disabled protestors in wheelchairs holding a banner that says: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere"

Honor the principles enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the ADA and work towards a future where accessibility and inclusivity are the norm. By fostering a society that values and accommodates the needs of all its citizens, we can truly embody the spirit of freedom and independence to create a more equitable and inclusive nation.