July 26 marks the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Celebrations of the signing of the ADA by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, are taking place across the nation.

The ADA and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) give civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion. The ADA and ADAAA also assure equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities for access to businesses, employment, transportation, state and local government programs and services, and telecommunications.

In Cass County, the population of people living with disabilities under age 65 is 10.9 percent (compared with a state average of 8.5 percent). The steadily increasing number of people over age 65 years is up to 24 percent of the population (compared to a state average of 18 percent), and many older adults are also struggling with disabilities associated with aging and chronic illness.

It is important for communities in Cass County to be disability-friendly to retain the residents, shoppers, restaurant-goers and visitors to this area who want to live and spend money here.

"Since 1991, the 10 regional ADA Centers in the ADA National Network have worked to change the landscape for individuals with disabilities by providing free, confidential and accurate information, resources and training to businesses, employers, and state and local governments on their responsibilities under the ADA," said Pamela Williamson, director of the Southeast ADA Center. "The ADA Centers also provide free and confidential answers to questions asked by people with disabilities, their families and other advocates, as well as veterans living across the United States.

"Because of the outreach, training and technical assistance the ADA National Network has done to promote voluntary compliance with the ADA, people with disabilities now have better access to businesses, buildings, state and local government programs and services, as well as increased opportunities for competitive employment. And their opportunities for full participation in community life are increasing every day."

In Cass County, people with disabilities have several resources to call for help, including Access North, a Center for Independent Living, and Faith in Action for Cass County. Access North assists with advocacy, independent living skills, information and referral, mentoring and support. Contact Access North at 218-547-2810.

Faith in Action is a nonprofit organization that coordinates volunteers who provide transportation, chore and homemaking services, caregiver respite, friendly visiting, home meal delivery, basic home repair and ramp building. There are no age or income restrictions - just a quick sign-up for services.

Volunteers are also needed throughout Cass County. Faith in Action volunteers choose how and when they want to help others. For more information on Faith in Action services and volunteer opportunities, call 866-675-5435 or visit www.faithinactioncass.com.