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On the 20th Anniversary of the ADA

Kessler Foundation reflects on passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act and its impact on quality of life for people with disabilities,

20th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed into law "the world's first comprehensive declaration of the equality of people with disabilities, and evidence of America's leadership internationally in the cause of human rights." Because of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act, Bush said, "every man woman and child with a disability can now pass through once closed doors, into a bright new era of equality, independence and freedom."

The passage of this important piece of legislation remains an important milestone for people with disabilities and the organizations that support the fullest implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Kessler Foundation, one of the largest public charities for disability, has focused its efforts in two areas – supporting initiatives that promote employment for people with disabilities and conducting research to improve physical and cognitive rehabilitation.

"Our grantmaking focuses on equal access to employment as specified in the ADA," noted Elaine Katz, Vice President of Grant Programs and Special Initiatives. Kessler Foundation is a leader in funding job training programs based on accessibility and adaptive technology. People with disabilities are raising hydroponically grown crops and working in information technology and laboratories, all as a result of programs based on training facilities modified to accommodate a diverse workforce.

Getting to work can be a challenge, which is why Kessler Foundation also supports programs that provide transportation for people with disabilities. Access to sports and recreation is also important for full involvement in the community, according to Katz, which is why it is addressed by the ADA. The Foundation funds the WheelBlazers, a competitive wheelchair racing team and the Navigators, an adaptive sports club that enables children with disabilities to compete nationally and internationally in swimming, archery, table tennis, road racing and track & field. A recent grant is funding the construction of an accessible playground with adaptive equipment, in accordance with ADA guidelines for outdoor recreation facilities.

Katz and Rodger DeRose, President and Chief Executive Officer, work with national disability organizations and policymakers in Washington, D.C., to ensure that people with disabilities have equal opportunities for employment as specified by the ADA. At the request of the president, DeRose participated in the While House Job Summit in December 2009. He and other CEOs from across the nation worked together to formulate strategies and set priorities to stimulate job development and boost the economy. "By investing in innovative business models that succeed by employing people with disabilities, we act as a stimulus for entrepreneurship as well as meaningful jobs. These examples will inspire others to replicate these ideas and apply them across the country, and perhaps around the world," said DeRose.

In an effort to learn more about areas of importance to people with disabilities in this 20th anniversary year of the ADA, Kessler Foundation is funding two Harris Polls in partnership with the National Organization on Disability (NOD). The Kessler Foundation/ NOD Survey of Americans with Disability examines employment, income, education, life satisfaction, technology and other important issues that affect people with disabilities. The second poll, Employment of People with Disabilities looks at hiring trends at U.S. companies. Comparison with previous surveys will identify where progress is being made and areas where greater efforts need to be focused. Release of the first survey results is scheduled for the July 26 anniversary of the ADA. For more information on the polls, visit

Overcoming physical and cognitive disabilities means people are better able to work and participate in their communities. Kessler Foundation's contributions in rehabilitation research are widely recognized. John DeLuca, PhD, Vice President for Research and Training, noted: "We are making real progress in overcoming disabilities caused by stroke, brain injury, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis and other neuromuscular disorders."

People with spinal cord injury, for example, are regaining mobility as a result of intensive locomotor training. We are one of seven centers that offer this experimental therapy, which means greater independence for people with lower limb weakness and paralysis. Problems with thinking, learning and remembering often affect people with stroke, multiple sclerosis, and brain injury. The cognitive research conducted at Kessler Foundation helps people improve these functions that are critical to performance in school and on the job.

DeRose shared his perspective on the ADA's influence, saying, "The Act has raised awareness of the fundamental issues in our society that affect people with disabilities. The Harris polls will help identify those areas we need to focus on in the coming decades. At Kessler Foundation, we'll continue to pursue excellence and innovation in our research and grantmaking, which will help ensure equal opportunity for people with disabilities."

To read the entire Act, visit

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