Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Law, similar bias

In September of 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law the ADA Amendments Act. The law just recently went into affect. The new legislation strengthens the Americans with Disabilities Act, signed in 1990 by George H.W. Bush.

While the original ADA was a civil rights milestone for people with disabilities, the law has failed to live up to the intent of its authors and congress. Though the law intended to give people with disabilities a tool to navigate through physical and social barriers to employment, the unemployment rate of people with disabilities is a staggering 70%. The law was intended to give people with disabilities a tool with which to protect themselves in court when there was a violation of civil rights. But a string of Supreme Court decisions have severely narrowed the scope of the law, fundamentally weakening the protections of many people with disabilities.
In 2004, plaintiffs lost 97% of ADA employment cases that went to trial.

The ADA Amendments Act overturns the four Supreme Court decisions that have inappropriately narrowed the protections of the ADA. The new law restores the promise and intent of the original legislation. According to Marca Bristo, the President at Access Living, “These amendments will restore to many people with disabilities their rights. The law will level the playing field, allowing people with disabilities the tools to pursue the same opportunities as others in employment and other important areas.”

Though the ADA Amendments Act is a wonderful civil rights achievement for the disability community, it is interesting to observe members of the media treat the passage not as an achievement, but rather as a potential burden to businesses. Instead of highlighting the fact that this law could strenghten the economy by bringing more people back into the workforce, or underscoring the importance of an inclusive, diverse community that this law supports, a number of publications run leads such as "Expansion of ADA law expected to cause a windfall of claims," (The Arizona Capitol Times), or "Watch for more lawsuits alleging discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act," (The Chicago Tribune).

In these days and times, it's understandable that media outlets would stress an economic message, but it's unfortunate that some outlets failed to highlight the positive economic outcomes that will result when more businesses recognize the intent of the ADA, and tap into the pool of workers with disabilities.


  1. One of the biggest problems is with people like Jarek Molski who file suits, not as an attempt to fix the problem of accessibility, but as a method of personal gain. He ends up generating the wrong kind of publicity for the cause, and by being involved in so many lawsuits gives the media and the general public the impression that persons filing ADA lawsuits are all motivated by greed and by a desire to harm business. The reality is that by making a workplace or a place of business more accessible, you're broadening your own workforce or your consumer base, and improving things rather than making them worse, and if we can get the media to represent the case that way, the cause would be much improved!

  2. I sometimes wonder about the Jarek Molski's though. Media often portrays them as opportunists, but if they are denied access, don't they have a right to file complaints? I guess if the plaintiffs only ask for money, and don't ask the businesses to address accessibility, then the plaintiffs do perpetuate the opportunist image.