ADA’s 20th Anniversary: A Contrary View
Much has been favorably written about the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is my view, however, that the ADA hasn’t helped the truly disabled as much as it’s helped people with ordinary physical and mental ailments. With the passage of the ADA Amendments Act and its new definition of disability, this unfortunate result will be exacerbated.
We need a disability discrimination law. Early on when the law was being crafted, many observers thought its purpose was to help citizens who had been traditionally eliminated from the workplace without much consideration — the blind, deaf, paralyzed, a schizophrenic — to finally break through.
Almost from the beginning, though, the law was used for workers’ comp injuries, bad backs, arthritic knees, sore feet, headaches, nervous conditions, on-again off-again ailments, and the like. I’m inclined to believe that one reason the U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings to narrow the ADA’s application is to prevent the law from covering non-disabilities, at least from a traditional point of view. Now that Congress has overturned these rulings with the ADAAA, disabilities are destined to become caricatures.
I’m not complaining about a needed disability discrimination law. I’m complaining about a law that cheapens the struggles and accomplishments of those with real disabilities by covering “disabilities” so broadly defined by the ADAAA that it’s hard to imagine an ailment or illness that isn’t a disability. Perhaps someone has already expressed this contrary view, but I haven’t seen it — not in conjunction with marking the ADA’s 20th anniversary. It needs to be said.
I’m not encouraging ADA civil disobedience. For 20 years, I have tried to help employers comply with this law, and I will continue to do so. I’m saying that it is an example of a law with good intentions being turned on its head.