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Know the ABC’s of ADA Signage: Education Means Profit

Offering ADA signage at your sign shop will increase your profits

By Staff

Offering ADA signage at your sign shop will increase your profits. But you need more than a well-developed marketing plan to be successful in this area. Success in the ADA signage is directly related to how much you and your employees know about ADA laws and guidelines.

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  • New sign shops or those who don’t specialize in or have never offered ADA signage may find themselves intimidated by this mysterious three-letter acronym and what it represents. So, before jumping into the intricacies of ADA law, a basic knowledge of the origins of the ADA will make later encounters with ADA law more understandable.

    The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President Bush on July 26, 1990. The first comprehensive act of its kind, the ADA guaranteed equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, public accommodations, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunication relay services.

    The ADA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of an individual, having a record of such and impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment.”

    In its broadest sense, the purpose of the ADA is to make the American society more accessible to people with disabilities. Before this act was passed, protection for people with disabilities was scattered and quite limited.

    Surprisingly, the major events that lead to the ADA occurred only within the last thirty years. Before that, programs and movements for the advancement and inclusion of people with disabilities into mainstream society moved slowly.

    In colonial times in America, people with physical or mental disabilities had little chance of ever being accepted as members of society. For the most part, their future was determined by the compassion of their immediate family. There were no laws to protect them.

    Very often, due to lack of compassion or simply lack of money, families did not provide proper care to their disabled members. These unfortunate people were disowned and left to die.

    In the early nineteenth century, institutions began to offer care for disabled people. Yet, there were basically no laws to control these institutions. Often they simply collected their fees and then locked the disabled people in attics to freeze and starve to death.

    Even when they were treated relatively humanely, disabled people were viewed as less than human. The institutions did not try to teach people with disabilities to be independent citizens. Instead, they isolated and “protected” them from society.

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    Collective concern for disabled people became a little more evident in the 1920’s. However, this concern was for more practical than compassionate reasons. As a result of World War I and industrial accidents, the number of disabled Americans increased. Finding a means to help these people return to work was obviously a practical goal.

    Welfare and entitlement programs developed between 1920 and 1960. These programs helped individuals take advantage of the advances in medical technology that allowed people to survive previously deadly diseases and accidents.

    As a result, more and more disabled people were able to get out into the world with little or no assistance. Organizations run initially by non-disabled people developed work and recreational programs for people with disabilities. But these programs were still, for the most part, sheltered and segregated.

    American society was becoming more understanding of disabled people, but still it had not welcomed them as complete equal citizens.

    The Architectural Barrier Act of 1968 required that facilities designed, built, altered or leased with certain Federal funds had to be accessible to persons with disabilities.

    Then, in the seventies, more movements arose that supported meaningful equal opportunity and demanded that disabled people be allowed to govern their own lives and be competent independent members of society. Instead of only sympathetic non-disabled people leading the programs, people with disabilities became leaders and spokespersons for these movements.

    In 1973, the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (also known as the U.S. Access Board) was created. Its primary mission was assuring accessibility for people with disabilities. Now, more specifically, the Access Board develops and maintains minimum guidelines for accessible facilities that serve as the basis for enforceable standards issued by four standard-setting agencies: the Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the U.S. Postal Service.

    The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was passed by Congress with the purpose of providing meaningful equal opportunity for disabled people. This act supported the development of programs of vocational rehabilitation and independent living. It also developed a federal board in charge of assuring access to public buildings and transportation as well as protecting against discrimination in employment by the federal government. Later, section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act would serve as a model for several ADA provisions.

    Congress passed other acts such as The Education of All Handicapped Children Act of 1974 and a 1988 amendment to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, in efforts to better the lives of disabled people.

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