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We celebrate National Disability Independence Day on July 26 to recognize the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) being signed and passed into law in 1990. Let’s dive into the history of the ADA and how your organization can use language services to improve accessibility.

A Brief History of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The National Council on the Handicapped (now National Council on Disability, or NCD) issued its report Toward Independence in 1986. The report’s legislative recommendation encouraged Congress to enact a comprehensive equal opportunity law. Two years later, the Congressional Task Force on the Rights and Empowerment of Americans with Disabilities developed the first version of the ADA. A revised version of the document passed the Senate vote in 1989, followed by a passing House vote and President George H. W. Bush signing the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.

Regulations for Titles I-IV became effective over the next four years, including:

  • guidelines for equal opportunity employment
  • protecting against discrimination by state and local government entities
  • providing public accommodations, including transportation
  • telecommunications relay services

In addition to updated transportation regulations in 2006, George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) into law in 2008 to counteract the Supreme Court’s limited interpretation of disability and provide broad protection from discrimination. Since then, more updates to Titles I-IV have been issued to further support and protect individuals with disabilities.

How to Improve Accessibility with Language Services

While we can’t speak to all areas covered in the ADA, there are many ways organizations can use language services to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. Whether you’re legally required to offer accommodations or simply want to become more inclusive, you can embrace the spirit of the ADA and deliver multiple communication options. Check this list against your current offerings to see how you can provide better service to your customers, clients, or patients:

  • Video Remote Interpretation (VRI): As telehealth appointments and virtual meetings continue to gain popularity, remember to include an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter for video calls with the Deaf and Hard of Hearing community.
  • Accessible documents: Use braille, large print, audio files, or screen reader-friendly documents to accommodate your customers with visual impairments. Here are some helpful tips:
    • Include a brief description of tables, charts, or other visual elements that provide crucial information.
    • Review your documents for appropriate color contrast, use accessible fonts, and avoid placing text over backgrounds with heavy graphics.
    • Format digital documents to make them accessible to people with motor disabilities using various keyboards, light signaler alerts, touch screens, and other assistive technology.
  • Video captions and transcripts: Provide captions or written transcripts to help those with hearing challenges engage with your content. You can further accommodate people who primarily speak languages other than English by including subtitles.
  • Plain language: Remember that some conditions and disabilities aren’t immediately apparent. Using plain language can help you communicate your message to people with cognitive impairments or low literacy levels.

Additional Resources


Lindsay Lawson

Lindsay Lawson

An experienced researcher, writer, and editor on language services-related topics, specializing in interpreting and translation services, how language works.