The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a wide-ranging civil rights statute that prohibits numerous kinds of discrimination against persons with physical or mental handicaps in both public and private sectors. The statute emphasizes two major forms of discrimination: in employment and in physical barriers to buildings, transportation, and public services.
Often described as the world’s first comprehensive law designed to protect persons with disabilities from invidious discrimination, the ADA was modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964
The ADA defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” The judgment about whether a particular condition is a “disability” is made on a case by case basis. The statute requires “reasonable accommodations” to facilitate full participation of disabled persons, but it exempts measures that cause “undue hardship.” For employment purposes, a person must be “otherwise qualified” to perform a job, and employers are not required to hire or promote a disabled person who is less competent or qualified than another candidate. The meanings and applications of the ADA’s rather vague terms are primarily the responsibility of federal agencies, whose decisions are subject to judicial review. In addition, private plaintiffs in many instances may sue and receive compensation for violations.
The U.S. Supreme Court has often upheld the rights of disabled persons to facilities and services under Titles II and III. In Bragdon v. Abbot
In employment cases under Title I, the Supreme Court has defined the word “disability” very narrowly. The key case was Sutton v. United Air Lines
Other decisions by the Supreme Court have also disappointed advocates of disability rights. Barnes v. Gorman
Early in the twenty-first century, the Supreme Court was badly divided on the issue of whether the ADA contradicts the sovereign immunity of the states
Jones, Nancy Lee. The Americans with Disabilities Act: Overview, Regulations and Interpretations. Hauppauge: Nova Science, 2003. Switzer, Jacqueline Vaughn. Disabled Rights: American Disability Policy and the Fight for Equality. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003.
Race and discrimination