The Americans with Disabilities Act had been undercut by U.S. courts. A new law restores it.
Thomas Earle and Steve Gold are, respectively, president of Philadelphia-based Liberty Resources and a disability-rights lawyer.
The Americans with Disabilities Act, the fundamental civil-rights
protection for people with disabilities, was restored to its original
purpose as of Jan. 1. It's important to understand why that restoration
was necessary, and what it means for both disabled and non-disabled
When Congress enacted the original ADA in 1990, it was said to be as
significant for people with disabilities as the civil-rights laws of
the 1960s were for people of color - affording equal status, equal
opportunity, dignity, and an end to discrimination. Unfortunately, it
was not long before businesses and other institutions became a major
While most Americans believe and hope that the courts are protectors of
civil rights, a number of court decisions, urged by businesses and
other powerful institutions, significantly undercut ADA rights. The
courts went out of their way to undermine the civil rights of a
minority, directly contradicting Congress' intent in adopting the law.
EmploymentThis was particularly true in employment cases,
which contributed to the extraordinarily high unemployment rate of
people with disabilities: 67 percent. These are people who want to work
and could work if the ADA had been fully implemented.
The courts severely restricted the definition of disabled
and therefore the number of people protected by the Americans with
Disabilities Act. In one case, the Supreme Court ruled that people who
took medication or had corrective devices - so-called "mitigating
measures" - were not disabled.
The court also made it nearly impossible to prove that a person was fired because of a disability.
Many lower courts, following the Supreme Court's lead, held that people
with mental illnesses, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, and even mental
retardation were not disabled and therefore had no rights under the act.
In 2008, disability advocates organized and demanded redress from our
elected officials. They responded quite positively, including
Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Robert Casey, who led the fight to
ensure the original intent of the law was restored.
in effect told the courts that the 1990 scope, meaning and breadth of
the ADA is what elected officials and the disability community wanted
restored and enforced in the future. The ADA Restoration Act of 2008
emphasized that the focus of disability litigation should be whether or
not discrimination has occurred.
The struggle to end discrimination against people with disabilities is
not new. Losing some of our progress over the past 18 years hurt a lot,
but we're optimistic.
We're looking forward to a future when people with disabilities are not
unnecessarily institutionalized and discriminated against, and when
disabled people work and live side by side with other people.