e d g e - education for disability and gender equity


1 Introduction
2 Why Enact the ADA?
3 What Does the ADA Do?
4 The U.S. Constitution
5 How Voters Influence Elected Officials
6 The Disability Vote
7 Setting the Stage for the ADA
8 Campaigning for the ADA
9 Activity
10 Resources

Statue of Liberty sitting in a wheelchair - Mouth Magazine
Mouth Magazine
Statue of Liberty in a wheelchair

Government is a powerful force in the lives of every American. Each day, American citizens interact with the government, often without thinking about it. We pay taxes to the government, and use services provided and/or funded by these tax dollars, such as mail delivery, public buses, interstate highways, schools, and law enforcement. Medicines, automobiles, some foods, and many other products must meet standards set by the government. We shop and work in businesses which must comply with various government regulations, such as those related to safety, building codes, labor practices, and fairness.

Think about what you did this week. In what ways did the government affect your life this week?

The relationship between the government and the people is not a one-way street. The government affects us, but we also affect the government. In a democracy, government is supposed to be responsive to the citizens. Universal suffrage (the right of all adults to vote in elections) is an important ingredient in any democracy. Fully realizing this ideal took our nation almost 200 years, as different groups won the right to vote. At this point in U.S. history, universal suffrage is fairly well-established. There have been a few recent exceptions, such as the 2000 presidential election in which poorly-designed ballots and other irregularities deprived some Florida citizens of their right to vote. Also, physical and communication barriers still make voting difficult for some Americans with disabilities.

In principle, the idea of "one person, one vote" means that all citizens have the same opportunity to shape political outcomes. In reality, different citizens have different levels of influence on government decision-making. There are several ways that some people in society develop more political power than others. These ways include:

  • Combining many individual votes into large voting blocs.
  • Using the power of an organization, such as a union or a trade association, to persuade many individuals to vote a certain way.
  • Buying newspaper space or television time to advertise for certain political positions.
  • Contributing money or time to political candidates, in order to gain access and influence.
In this lesson, we will look at the passage and implementation of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, to see how citizen action influences legislation, and how laws are administered to impact society.

(next section - Why Enact the ADA?)

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