Seven years after the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law on July 26, 1990, a young Mongolian named Oidov Vaanchig traveled to Los Angeles with his father for medical treatments. Vaanchig, who uses a wheelchair, was amazed at how accessible the city was in the early days of the ADA’s implementation.
“You could go with a wheelchair without any barriers. You could take a bus and go down from Wilshire Boulevard to the Santa Monica and there was completely no barrier. And for that time, when I was 17 years old, it was just amazing. I never could imagine this kind of environment,” he said.
In subsequent U.S. visits, he found that the accessibility he first encountered in 1997 had extended beyond street transportation. Hotels and other public places offered wider doors and aisles, tables high enough to accommodate wheelchairs, and ramps to replace or provide an alternative to steps. For international travelers with disabilities, the State Department offers guidelines on how best to ensure accessible, safe and enjoyable travel.
There are more places today “where you can represent yourself” as a person with a physical disability, Vaanchig said.
The expansion of the ADA over the past 25 years has “become a way of life [for everyone in the U.S.] rather than just a standard,” he said, with nondisabled people also enjoying the many improvements. Vaanchig, who still lives in Mongolia, hopes the law will now influence designers and architects to think in terms of a “universal design for everyone” when they first conceive and develop their ideas.
The ADA has given “a lot of input and impulses to other parts of the world to make changes on the part of accessibility and human rights,” he said. He predicted more such actions in the future, arguing that the two largest differences in humanity come from gender and from whether people have a disability or not.
“Human beings will not stop with ADA. They will also bring up ideas or principles or philosophy that will support bringing together the two largest parts of human beings,” he said.