25th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Signed on July 26, 1990 by President George H.W. Bush, the ADA was the world’s first comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities.

The National Archives holds many records that relate to American citizens with disabilities. In addition to the historic legislation itself, the holdings of our Presidential Libraries contain personal letters and stories that provide insight into disability history.

This Braille letter, for example, was written by a 13 year old boy to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, offering campaign advice in the fall of 1956:

Letter from John Beaulieu to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Braille
Letter from John Beaulieu to President Dwight D. Eisenhower in Braille, National Archives Identifier 594353

As part of the 25th anniversary commemoration, the National Archives and Presidential Libraries participated in the collaborative #DisabilityStories initiative on Twitter. We were pleased to join the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Kennedy Center’s Office of VSA and Accessibility, and others who took part in this international conversation.

We joined #DisabilityStories on Twitter from @Bush41Library, @FDRLibrary, @OurPresidents, and @USNatArchives. Our archivists were on hand to answer questions from the public about FDR’s personal disability stories, and about George Bush’s involvement in the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  The Bush Library also invited Lex Frieden to join them in their Twitter chat session. Frieden is an advocate for people with disabilities who worked closely with President Bush to develop and enact the ADA.  In 2014, Mr. Frieden donated his private collection of artifacts related to the disabilities right movement to the Bush Library.  Frieden answered questions on Twitter alongside the Bush Library, bringing another important voice to #DisabilityStories.

This initiative was designed to spark reflection and connections, encouraging people with disabilities to share their own stories and perspectives. On the day of the chat, more than 8,000 tweets were sent as part of this conversation.

While we shared many documents, photos and stories of disabilities found in our records, we also shared personal stories from our staff, including a wonderful piece by Danica Rice, an archives technician currently working at the National Archives at Seattle.

Disability stories are powerful, and play an important role in telling the story of our American history and culture. We welcome the opportunity to share our information, experiences, and pieces of our history with the world as we celebrate this landmark legislation.

More resources and information can be found on our website.