The International Impact of the ADA

On July 26, without much fanfare, the  civil rights act, the Americans with Disabilities Act turned 21. The ADA  is significant because it is national civil rights legislation explicitly banning discrimination against people with disabilities in the public and private sectors. The ADA is revolutionary not only because of its provisions and purpose, but also because it was forged with the participation of disability organizations, bi-partisan champions from both houses of Congress, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the business community and  had widespread support from civil society. This was the first time such a cross-section of groups had collaborated on a common cause. The ADA has come to have a profound impact both at home and abroad.

The United States was the first country to enact national civil rights legislation prohibiting discrimination against individuals with disabilities. Since its enactment, the Act has been influential throughout the world influencing other countries to enact their own domestic non-discrimination legislation. Internationally, the ADA has been cited as one of the inspirations for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The CRPD, which incorporates the same principles of equality and non-discrimination found in the ADA, is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations intended to protect the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law.

According to a report, World Report on Disability, released in June, by the World Bank and the World Health Organization (WHO), more than a billion people in the world today experience some form of disability. That a billion people experience some form of disability makes the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities critically important.

There are eight guiding principles that underlie the CRPD

  1. Respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons
  2. Non-discrimination
  3. Full and effective participation and inclusion in society
  4. Respect for difference and acceptance of persons with disabilities as part of human diversity and humanity
  5. Equality of opportunity
  6. Accessibility
  7. Equality between men and women
  8. Respect for the evolving capacities of children with disabilities and respect for the right of children with disabilities to preserve their identities

The Convention adopts a social model of disability, and defines disability as an evolving concept and that disability results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.

Nearly 150 countries and regional organizations have signed the CRPD, and 100 have ratified it, committing them to removing barriers so that people with disabilities may participate fully in their societies.



WINAHEAD is made up of representatives from thirty institutions. Our members are professionals employed by two- and four-year colleges and universities who work directly with students with disabilities to ensure equal access to higher education. WIN indicates the geographic area we represent: Western Iowa and Nebraska. AHEAD is our national parent organization, the Association on Higher Education and Disability.
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