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Research Navigator: The ADA at 26 - Networks, Numbers, and Knowledge for the Next Generation

Published July 19, 2016

The ADA logo: Americans with Disabilities Act, four squares with symbols for hearing, wheelchair, blind pedestrian, and sign language

Americans with Disabilities Act Logo

In honor of the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (July 26th), this Navigator will explore:

About This Series

Welcome to the seventh edition of the American Foundation for the Blind's Research Navigator! This is a quarterly series - accompanying AFB's DirectConnect newsletter - from the AFB Public Policy Center. The purpose of this series is to keep you informed of user-friendly facts and figures and the latest research pertaining to people with vision loss. The series will also include the necessary background information so you may use the information most accurately. Have an idea for a Research Navigator topic? Want to know more about a particular statistic or line of research? Send your thoughts to AFB's Senior Policy Researcher, Dr. Rebecca Sheffield. Readers are also encouraged to check out AFB's Statistical Snapshots. This webpage is regularly updated with a wide variety of information and tools that address commonly asked questions about people with vision loss.

Introduction to the Topic

Previous editions of the Navigator have focused on statistics and data sources related to demographic groups within the population of people with vision loss. Most recently, we looked at the intersection of vision loss and health and how data and statistics help us to better understand that intersection. Today, we are going to approach research (including data and statistics) from a wider angle, situated within the frameworks of policy and history. Hopefully the following sections of this newsletter will pique your interest - not only about the ADA, but also about new resources, new research methods, and new implications for previous and future studies.

Researcher's Note: This edition of the Navigator focuses on research connected with the ADA, particularly the work of the ADANN, including the ADAKTC. Much of this research was presented at the State of the Science Conference on the Americans with Disabilities Act, held in Alexandria, Virginia, on May 4th, 2016. To access the conference agenda, read session transcripts, and view webcast recordings and PowerPoint slides from the conference, visit

The ADA National Network

The National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) funds the ADA National Network, which is comprised of ten Regional ADA Centers as well as the ADA Knowledge Translation Center (ADAKTC). The ADA National Network (ADANN) was established in 1991, the year after the signing of the ADA, and its mission is to provide "information, guidance and training on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), tailored to meet the needs of business, government and individuals at local, state, regional, and national levels" (ADA National Network, 2016).

Anyone - whether a person with a disability, an employer, a family member, or an agency - can contact an ADA specialist through the Network for help in answering questions about the ADA and other disability laws. ADANN can be reached via phone (1-800-949-4232) or email (, or you can visit the regional centers directly. For a map of the 10 regional ADA centers, including direct email addresses, phone numbers, and mailing addresses, visit All of the Regional Centers have Facebook pages and websites, and each center regularly hosts in-person and web-based trainings to support consumers and employers in better understanding and applying the ADA.

Just a few highlights taken from the websites of the 10 regional centers (in addition to each center's important regional work with consumers, employers, and public awareness):

  • The New England ADA Center ( (Region 1, serving ME, MA, NH, VT, RI, and CT) offers a free, online Architectural Accessibility course. They also work with the Talking Information Center in Massachusetts to broadcast brief public service announcements on topics such as service animals, web accessibility, and voting rights.
  • The Northeast ADA Center ( (Region 2, serving NY, NJ, PR, and the US Virgin Islands) - in partnership with the ADAKTC - developed, implemented, and is in the process of evaluating a Just-In-Time toolkit for employers (Rudstam, Strobel-Gower, & Harris, 2016). They also run the Trainer Network, which uses a train-the-trainer model to develop local experts who then extend ADA information to their communities.
  • The Mid-Atlantic ADA Center ( (Region 3, serving DE, MD, PA, VA, WV, and DC) has developed resources specific to hospitality and disability, including requirements and best practices for accessible meetings and events. Their film, At Your Service, addresses best practices for providing customer service to persons with disabilities (the 20-minute film or two-minute preview can be viewed in English or Spanish, with or without audio description and/or captions, at This Center has recently undertaken research regarding reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities in the lodging industry (Fabian, 2016).
  • The Southeast ADA Center ( (Region 4, serving AL, FL, GA, KY, MI, NC, SC, and TN) produces ADA Live!, an internet-based radio station, hosting an interactive broadcast from 1:00-1:30 ET on the first Wednesday of each month. The Center also disseminates publications about accessible voting and ADA employment rights for veterans.
  • The Great Lakes ADA Center ( (Region 5, serving IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, and WI) runs the Quality Indicators in Assistive Technology for Post-Secondary (QIAT-PS) project (in collaboration with the Southwest ADA Center). The QIAT-PS project includes surveys and reports, guidelines, and handouts for schools and students ( Peters, 2016). This Center also hosts the Punch-in Project for young adults with disabilities, the ADA Case Law Database and Digest, an ADA Audio Conference Series, monthly Accessibility Online webinars and audio conferences, and an ADA Legal Webinar Series.
  • The Southwest ADA Center ( (Region 6, serving AR, LA, NM, OK, and TX) is the publisher of the important and very popular document, Service Animals and Emotional Support Animals. In addition to supporting QIAT-PS (described above), this Center hosts the ADA StoryTeller Project, recorded stories told by people with disabilities. They have recently undertaken research - in collaboration with the Center on Knowledge Translation for Employment Research - to study awareness of the ADA and other resources to support employees after cancer diagnoses (Murphy & Nguyen, 2016).
  • The Great Plains ADA Center ( (Region 7, serving IA, KA, MO, and NE) hosts the annual National ADA Symposium (Smith, 2016). The 2017 symposium will be in Chicago, May 14-17 ( This Center also hosts an ADA Coordinator Training Certification Program.
  • The Rocky Mountain ADA Center ( (Region 8, serving CO, UT, MT, WY, ND, and SD) has conducted workshops and trainings for National Parks and law enforcement personnel. This Center has undertaken research into a community of practice for Human Resource Professionals to support knowledge and implementation of the ADA ( Bezyak, 2016).
  • The Pacific ADA Center ( (Region 9, serving AZ, CA, HI, NV, American Samoa, Guam, & Northern Mariana Islands) leads a special focus on emergency and disaster preparedness, including working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and others to provide a webinar series and other trainings. They also maintain the website (, an online resource about accessible technology in the workplace.
  • The Northwest ADA Center ( (Region 10, serving AK, ID, OR, and WA) has partnered with Oregon Health and Science University to develop a Community Engagement Initiative to support accessible healthcare in small towns. They also offer a Healthcare Toolkit for healthcare providers and individuals with disabilities who are accessing healthcare. For businesses and facilities, this Center offers several online calculators for quick determination of required numbers of accessible parking spaces, checkout aisles, boat slips, etc. (

Finally, the ADAKTC (, based at the University of Washington, is a hub for supporting the Centers, disseminating the work of the Network, gathering and evaluating stakeholder feedback, and integrating research and research findings to inform work within and beyond the network. They maintain the ADANN website (, convene committees and meetings, develop tools and resources, and conduct research. The remainder of this edition of the Navigator will focus on research from ADAKTC and the Centers.

Participatory Action Research

Participatory research is "research in which organization members or staff (and sometimes even research subjects) work with the researcher in making decisions and conducting the research" (Vogt & Johnson, 2011, p. 280). Action research is "a type of applied research designed to find the most effective way to bring about a desired social change or solve a practical problem; it is usually conducted in collaboration with the subjects of the research" (Vogt & Johnson, 2011, p. 4). Thus, participatory action research involves members of an organization working together to bring about change by identifying a problem, determining a research approach, and undertaking the research through collaborative engagement with one another and other stakeholders. Seven of the ADANN Regional Centers (Regions 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, and 10) are participants in the federally-funded ADA Participatory Action Research Consortium (ADA-PARC), which has four stated purposes:

  • "To look at participation disparities experienced by people with disabilities post ADA and Olmstead.
  • To identify and examine key environmental factors contributing to these disparities.
  • To benchmark participation disparities and highlight promising practices at state and city levels.
  • To action-plan strategies for dissemination and utilization of findings to be used by ADA Centers and others in community capacity building and systems change initiatives."
    (ADA-PARC, n.d.)

The following recent research projects and findings exemplify this meaningful and inclusive research approach:

Demographics and Indicators

The ADA-PARC website ( provides consumer-friendly access to important statistics connected with the participation of people with disabilities in their communities. As presented by Joy Hammell from ADA-PARC at the 2016 State of the Science Conference on the ADA, the data provided has been targeted, gathered, and reviewed by steering committees at each of the Regional Centers. For example, the ADA-PARC site reveals that the national estimate for the percentage of people with disabilities living in institutions (nursing homes, hospital facilities, and correctional and juvenile institutions) is 5.7%; furthermore, ADA-PARC statistics demonstrate the wide variations among states, with the percentage being only 3.3% in Arizona but 8.8% in Iowa. Nationally, it is estimated that 21% of all people with disabilities live in public housing, ranging from 12% in Alaska to 33% in Idaho. Another interesting and important table of indicators shows the percentage of people with disabilities (ages 16 and up) who work from home - on average (nationally) 5.4% of people with versus 4.3% of people without a disability in the United States, ranging from 2.9%/2.1% in Mississippi to 9.5%/6.6% in Vermont. Currently, the only statistic for which ADA-PARC provides breakdowns by disability category is population totals. Interestingly, they relay the percentages people with various disabilities in large cities in the U.S. - ranking Detroit the highest, with 4.5% of the population having a vision disability, followed by New Orleans (3.5%) and Richmond (3.3%). These data are all taken from various tables in the American Community Survey. On their website, the precise data tables and calculations are provided for each estimate.

Woman shopping for 

clothes with dog guide

Research Project: ADA - Starting the Conversation with Businesses

At the State of the Science Conference in May 2016, Pamela Williamson and Karen Hamilton presented participatory action research from the Southeast ADA Center and Syracuse University. In a previous project, research teams (including people with and without disabilities) visited local government buildings and documented their experiences with accessibility. Using this project as a model, along with the North Carolina ADA Network and Southeast ADA Center's guide, Starting the Conversation with a Business ( ), they formed teams of people with similar and different disability types. Teams identified businesses to visit and activities to undertake, including completing a survey worksheet from the guide at each visit. Team members met to record and compare results, identifying and prioritizing strengths and barriers to share with the businesses. Following a sample template, the teams produced and shared a report and relevant ADA publications with the businesses they visited and followed up to determine if any changes were made. This participatory research demonstrated the feasibility of consumer-led surveying and reporting and found evidence of businesses' desire to know more and to make programs and services more accessible.

Research Project: Community Engagement and Accessibility in Rural Healthcare

Eva Larrauri and Michael Richardson presented the Northwest ADA Center's "collective impact" approach to action research about the complex problem of access to healthcare by people with disabilities living in rural areas. Their approach involved engaging different sectors of a community in a common agenda, throughout which they continuously learned and achieved results. First, town hall participants with disabilities met to identify barriers. Then, separately, providers, leaders, and other community members met to mobilize to address the barriers. Finally, all participants met together to evaluate the results (including data that had been collected from participant questionnaires, focus groups, observations, etc.). The ADA Center researchers combined and compared findings from similar efforts in three separate communities, concluding that the collective impact approach was useful in bringing stakeholders together to agree on solutions (although participation and outcomes varied).

View PowerPoints, transcripts, and presentations of these and other research from ADANN at the webpage for the State of the Science of the ADA Conference (2016),

Measuring the Impact of the ADA

At the State of the Science of the ADA Conference (2016), multiple presenters discussed research-based approaches to studying the impact of the ADA. Policy research can take many forms and often looks quite different from the laboratory and field research often published by JVIB, or the demographic analyses you have recently read in the Research Navigator.

Systematic Literature Review

A good example of an in-depth policy impact analysis was reported by Harris, Gould, Jones, and Fujiura from the University of Illinois College of Applied Health Sciences. Their study, a Mixed Methods Systematic Review of the ADA, was funded by the ADAKTC. The goal of the review was to "create a descriptive knowledge base of the current state of evidence informed by the ADA stakeholder needs and research trends" (note the participatory emphasis!) Beginning with 980 research abstracts, they narrowed their focus to 291 studies which were evaluated for common themes and characteristics. Some of the important findings from this review included "overstated and contradictory reports of compliance with the ADA," and "research and implementation gaps related to program access, accommodation process, and more complex applications of the ADA." In implementing ADA-related policies, organizations were found to have similar experiences of trying to balance perceived fairness for all with perceived special treatment of people with disabilities. For more details from their findings and to read about the next steps as they finalize their research, review the PowerPoint file at

ADA National Network logo, blue background with map of the United States, showing lines connecting dots representing the regional ADA Centers, text: ada National Network, Information, Guidance, and Training on the Americans with Disabilities Act

The Role of Technical Assistance in the Implementation of the ADA

Another study specifically looked at the impact of the technical assistance (resources, information, and support) provided by the ADANN to help with the implementation of the ADA (Johnson & Harniss, 2016). Of 226 technical assistance events studied, 125 (55%) were found to have led to an "implementation outcome" (a design change, an accommodation requested/delivered, an employee keeping his/her job, a policy change to be in compliance with the ADA, and/or a legal action undertaken). One technical assistance provider - a Center employee - expressed how over time, knowledge and awareness of the ADA has increased, but the work of the ADANN remains vital: "The types of questions are getting more complex. I believe people with disabilities, HR specialists, and others that implement the ADA are more savvy about the ADA...The level of the questions and the complexity has increased as the years have gone by, and people have been educated in many ways: through their employer, in their community, with their HR specialists, with their own research on the web." View the entire PowerPoint presentation here; also check out four case-study success stories from the ADANN:

Research on the Influence of the ADA for People with Vision Loss

Court Cases

In a presentation titled "The Americans with Disabilities Act: What the Legal Research Reveals About Trends and Unanticipated Applications of the Law," Barry Taylor (2016) reviewed major court cases which have influenced the implementation of the ADA since its adoption in 1990. Several of the court cases in his presentation involved plaintiffs with vision loss, providing insight into just a few of the many ways in which the ADA has impacted the lives of people with vision loss:

Sutton v. United Airlines (1999)

This case is symbolic of the trend (prior to the ADA Amendments Act - ADAAA) for courts to limit the definition of "disability" under the ADA. In this case, the Supreme Court ruled that the effects of corrective measures (like the plaintiff's eye glasses) must be taken into account when determining if the plaintiff has a disability which is protected by the ADA. The airline asserted (and the Supreme Court upheld) that the plaintiffs were not protected under the ADA because their vision was not substantially limited if they wore their glasses (even though the airline was refusing to hire them because of inadequate vision). This Supreme Court ruling led to dismissal of hundreds of other ADA cases until - in 2008 - Congress passed the ADAAA. In the ADAAA, Congress clarified that impairments are qualifying disabilities if they substantially limit a major life activity "when active." Remedial measures - including use of medications or low vision devices - cannot be taken into account when determining whether you are substantially limited. However, the ADAAA does specifically state that the benefits that can be gained from eye glasses and contact lenses must be taken into account when determining if someone is substantially limited in his/her ability to perform a major life activity.

Albertson's, Inc. v. Kirkingburg (1999)

A truck driver with vision in only one eye (monocular vision) was found not to have an ADA-qualifying disability, even though his employer dismissed him for failing to meet the vision requirements for his job (and despite the fact that a waiver was available from the Department of Motor Vehicles to permit someone with monocular vision to obtain the appropriate license). Since the passage of the ADAAA, the understanding is that "a person with monocular vision… will be substantially limited in seeing compared to most people in the general population" (EEOC, n.d.) and therefore would be protected against discrimination under the ADA.

California Council of the Blind v. County of Alameda (2013)

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California found that "voting privately and independently" is a "central feature" and "benefit" of voting, and thus denying the ability to vote independently is a violation of meaningful access to voting, as required under the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act. Reliance on third parties to facilitate voting was found to be an inadequate accommodation.

The ADA, Sensory Disability, and Employment:

In his presentation at the State of the Science conference, David Pettinicchio (2016) discussed indicators of the effect of the ADA on inequalities faced by people with disabilities. He suggested that insufficient regulatory guidance and the absence of specific solutions (for education, human and social capital, work arrangements, etc.) have weakened the ADA's impact on the labor market. Since employers have specific needs and preferences, and in the absence of specific guidance to promote the integration of people with disabilities across all types of careers and industries, people with disabilities are often segregated/clustered into lower paying jobs in less advantageous occupational sectors. Looking at occupational types, Pettinicchio reported that people with sensory disabilities are over-represented (compared to people without disabilities) in specific jobs - building/grounds cleaning and maintenance, transportation and material moving, production, construction and extraction, and installation/maintenance/repair. People with sensory disabilities were under-represented in management/business/science/arts, computer and mathematical, and finance careers. Within industries, people with sensory disabilities were found to be over-represented in transportation/warehousing and in manufacturing; they were underrepresented in educational/health/social services and in finance/insurance/real estate industries. Note that the category sensory disabilities includes people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing as well as people who are blind/visually impaired. (To view the entire analysis, see the PowerPoint file available at ).


This edition of the Navigator has focused on a specific source for research - the ADANN, highlighting the resources and strengths of this important program. Hopefully you have followed the links and investigated new resources for personal and/or professional use!

Yet, there is still much more work needed to study the impact of the ADA and to build best practices, particularly for the field of blindness and visual impairment. Future editions of this newsletter will continue to look at the impact of the ADA and other national and state policies as well as the policy implications of new and emerging research within our field. My hybrid title of "Policy Researcher" at AFB is an example of the complex interconnection of research and policy impact, which are both needed, simultaneously and in coordination, to expand possibilities for people with vision loss. As we celebrate 26 years of the ADA, we look forward to new opportunities to share and shape better, more inclusive and personalized outcomes to uphold the equality and freedoms of people with vision loss. Here's to the dedication and hard work of the researchers and advocates of the past 26 years, and here's to an even brighter future!

Please subscribe to the DirectConnect Newsletter to stay informed about policy, advocacy, and research from AFB's Policy Center (as well as to receive the quarterly Navigator ). To subscribe, go to and login in (if you have logged in before) or follow the link to “become a member” to create a newsletter account. Once you have an account and are logged in, follow the link to “Newsletters,” check the box next to AFB DirectConnect, and click submit!


ADA National Network. (2016). National informational & training resources [PDF brochure]. Retrieved from

ADA Participatory Action Research Consortium (ADA-PARC) (n.d.). Community and work participation disparities for people with disabilities. Retrieved from the Center on Disability at the Public Health Institute website

Bezyak, J. (2016). A community of practice for human resource professionals [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Fabian, E. (2016). Reasonable accommodations in the lodging industry for employees with disabilities [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Hammell, J. (2016). Community and work participation disparities for people with disabilities [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Harris, S. P., & Gould, R. (2016). Systematic review of research on implementation of the ADA [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Johnson, K., & Harniss, M. (2016). Measuring ADA outcomes [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Larrauri, E. & Richardson, M. (2016). Community engagement and accessibility in rural health care: A multi-case study [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Murphy, K., & Nguyen, V. (2016). Awareness of the ADA act and other resources to support employees after cancer diagnosis [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Peters, J. (2016). Quality indicators for AT in post secondary settings [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Pettinicchio, D. (2016). The limits of the ADA? Disability and structural inequality I the post-ADA era [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Rudstam, H., Strobel-Gower, W., & Harris, C. (2016).Beyond training, the Just-in-Time Program as a force for diversity and disability inclusiveness [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Smith, D. (2016). National ADA Symposium participation and outcomes: Great plains survey analysis [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

Taylor, B. (2016). The Americans with Disabilities Act: What the Legal Research Reveals About Trends and Unanticipated Applications of the Law [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.Questions & answers about blindness and vision impairments in the workplace and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Retrieved from

Vogt, W. P., & Johnson, R. B. (2011). Dictionary of statistics & methodology: A nontechnical guide for the social sciences. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Williamson, P. & Hamilton, K. Americans with disability act: Starting the conversation with business [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from

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