Last Saturday, July 26, marked the 24-year anniversary of the historic Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The landmark law was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990.
Since then, the ADA has been instrumental in securing justice and equality for people with disabilities (PWD) in all facets of American life. The ADA has commonly been referred to as the Emancipation Proclamation for the disability community and the first comprehensive civil rights law for PWD.
ADA & Rehabilitation Act
The ADA is enforced by several federal agencies. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in:
- Private sector employment, including state and local governments (Title I),
- Public services (Title II),
- Public accommodations (Title III), and
- Telecommunications (Title IV).
- Title V of the ADA covers miscellaneous provisions.
Conversely, the Rehabilitation Act preceded the ADA by nearly 17 years and applies to the federal sector. The Rehab Act (for short) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in federal sector programs, including:
- Federal financial assistance,
- Federal employment, and
- Employment practices of federal contractors.
The standards for determining employment discrimination under the Rehab Act, as amended, are the same as those under Title I of the ADA. The Rehab Act was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1973.
Unfortunately, despite progress made, full equality and inclusion for people with disabilities remains elusive. In fact, nearly one quarter century after passage of the ADA, disability discrimination is still rampant nationwide. This is evidenced by a lack of equal access to public facilities, to a lack of equal access to jobs, to reported claims of disability discrimination.
One major problem is the stubborn persistence of myths, fears and stereotypes about PWD. The stigma of having a disability has not disappeared. Moreover, people with mental disabilities are usually viewed more negatively than those with physical disabilities.
Therefore, more needs to be done to foster a level playing field and eradicate discriminatory barriers.
Double Dose of Discrimination
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 60 million Americans – or one out of every five citizens – have some type of disability, whether temporary or permanent. It’s also important to remember that disabilities impact people of every race, religion, color, gender, age and ethnicity.
Thus some minorities with disabilities may face a double or triple dose of discrimination. For example, a black female who uses a wheelchair might be discriminated against based on her race and gender, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as disability status under the ADA. Further, harassment of PWD is still too commonplace in the workplace.
On a more positive note, the U.S. government has made an important impact on the lives of tens of millions of citizens with physical and mental disabilities. Moreover, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 has opened more doors for PWD to receive job accommodations which allow them to be gainfully employed with dignity.
PWD = Pool of Untapped Talent
People with disabilities (PWD) represent a large pool of untapped talent for the private sector and public sector workforce. Additionally, PWD also significantly contribute to consumer spending, a key economic indicator.
According to a July 2012 study by the U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports: Americans with Disabilities:
- “The population of people with disabilities inhabit a distinct position in the U.S. economy, both for their contributions to the marketplace and roles in government policies and programs.”
- “People with disabilities bring unique sets of skills to the workplace, enhancing the strength and diversity of the U.S. labor market.”
- “In addition, PWD make up a significant market of consumers, representing more than $200 billion in discretionary spending and spurring technological innovation and entrepreneurship.”
Nevertheless, it is shameful that PWD are still:
- Less likely to be employed,
- More likely to live in poverty, and
- Earn about $10,000 less than the average median earnings.
Thus even though it’s been 24 years since enactment of the ADA, the fight for disability rights, full inclusion and equal justice continues unabated.
* NOTE: all views and opinions are those of the author only.
David Grinberg is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.