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ADA 20th anniversary: Changing lives, building futures

The Americans with Disabilities Act has changed millions of lives for the better, helping to empower people with disabilities with some of the basic freedoms we need to live full and productive lives -- and to fully participate in all aspects of society.

The ADA helped to give those of us who use wheelchairs and other people with disabilities a shot at the American dream. And, the ADA has helped to improve the quality of everyone's life. For example, if you've ever used a curb cut or an automatic door, the ADA has helped you.

Since its enactment, and despite continuing challenges with enforcement, the ADA has had an enormous impact on fighting discrimination in the areas of employment, public services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.

As we celebrate the ADA's 20th anniversary and the progress we have made, let's also think even bigger when it comes to the remaining barriers facing people with disabilities. Let's identify them and tear them down.

For example, barriers to a good job and career still remain for paralyzed veterans. The unemployment rate for veterans with severe disabilities is 85 percent. Yet we know that with the right help, veterans with disabilities can actively compete in the job market, bringing incredible skills and experience from their lives in the service. In turn, employers get great employees. That's why Paralyzed Veterans of America recently launched Mission: ABLE ( -- to enlist all Americans to help our paralyzed heroes fully live the lives they deserve and to receive what they need most: care, benefits and jobs. This effort hopes to change lives and build brighter futures for our nation's veterans with disabilities.

Let's also strengthen our role as an international leader in the fight for increased civil rights for people with disabilities. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will likely soon be considered by the U.S. Senate. The administration signed the convention last year. The ADA helped to inspire this vitally important international human rights convention and 88 nations have already ratified it. This is a marvelous example for American leadership helping to improve human rights for hundreds of millions of people with disabilities -- including the millions of Americans with disabilities who would like to see and experience a more accessible world.

As we look forward to the next two decades of the expanding global influence of the ADA, let's look forward to full civil rights for all people with disabilities in a truly accessible world.

Gene A. Crayton is national president of Paralyzed Veterans of America.