How Much Do You Know About the ADA & People with Disabilities?

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.

Discrimination Persists

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.

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Juana Williams

Hello David, your blog is a great reminder of the work all of us as citizens should continue. One of the issues you mentioned was a difference in wage. Part of that reason may be that people with disabilities may not have the education required for a higher paying job. Those with a developmental disability may be very happy to hold a job that we would consider “entry level” for the rest of their career. The ADA lumps all disabilities together and in the job market, an office may be able to hire one or two mentally disabled employees (answering the phone, receptionist or simple filing), but require the remainder of their employees to complete the primary focus of the agency. I love that you stated that the disabled “bring unique sets of skills to the workplace”. That is very true. The disabled rarely call-in sick or ask to take their vacation (unless they go with family); they are prompt to work and remain busy. The issue of equal access to public places is still a problem. Most places have altered their buildings to meet with the minimum of the law, but if you check many restrooms, a person using a w/c can rarely reach the soap or even fit the arms of a w/c under the sink. And forget about space in a stall to turn a w/c or walker. Thank you for the reminder of the work that is left to do!

Amber Hansen

My husband lives with a disability, one that is only visible because he uses a service dog. He is constantly concerned with how he will be received in new places, public and private. He endures unbelievably inconsiderate and rude comments. Kids will say anything but I am constantly amazed at the freedom adults feel in asking deeply personal questions and making flippant and judgmental comments about my husband and his disability.

I believe discrimination against those with a disability is deeply routed in ignorance. When I meet people with a visible disability, I work hard to curb my curiosity, be polite and act normal as I would with any new acquaintance. The disability does not define them as a person, it should not define my view of them, nor should I allow it to convince me of any assumed limitations.

The ADA is a start but until the majority of the public learn that disability does not equal inability things are unlikely to progress.

Ryan Arba

Hi David – thanks for your great posts, as usual. I didn’t realize how far we have to go. Keep spreading the word!

Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

Employers’ attitudes are the real disability. If employers focus on abilities and competencies and not on disabilities, th

Phuong Le Callaway, PhD

Sorry! my iPhone acted up. I meant to say if employers focus on abilities and not on disabilities, the employment barriers for people with disabilities can be minimized.

Earl Rice

David, good post. As a PWD, at times I have felt loneliness I guess I will call it. The worst experiences I had were, and you won’t believe, or maybe you will, in the Washington DC crowd.