Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The American with Disabilities Act celebrates its 21st birthday

Today the Americans with Disabilities Act celebrates its 21st birthday. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990 was a pioneering law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and enshrined in law the concept of equality for persons with disabilities and it has been hugely influential in shaping anti-discrimination law across the world. The ADA represented a significant landmark in the disability rights movement, it was the culmination of a civil society movement across the United States that fought hard to remove barriers that prevented persons with disabilities participating within their communities and society. The ADA has a wide-ranging scope extending to state and local governments, employers, and to the public and private spheres in the supply of goods and services. Not to overstate the point but the ADA went beyond the traditional concepts of anti-discrimination law in enshrining the concept of reasonable accommodation in the legislation. Reasonable accommodation requires the removal of barriers that restrict opportunities for persons with disabilities. There has been a growing body of literature that has questioned the effectiveness of the ADA in achieving its goals. See for example the work of Professor Samuel Bagenstos here. The US Supreme Court has interpreted the ADA in a disappointingly narrow manner and in Federal Courts applicants using the ADA usually lose their cases. In fact prisoners are the only class of litigants less successful than litigants using the ADA. The ADA has in real terms been unsuccessful in facilitating greater participation of persons with disabilities in the US workforce. See here.

Barack Obama in his Presidential Proclamation on the Anniversary stated:

Through the ADA, America was the first country in the world to comprehensively declare equality for citizens with disabilities. To continue promoting these principles, we have joined in signing the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. At its core, this Convention promotes equality. It seeks to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy the same rights and opportunities as all people, and are able to lead their lives as do other individuals. Eventual ratification of this Convention would represent another important step in our forty-plus years of protecting disability rights. It would offer us a platform to encourage other countries to join and implement the Convention. Broad implementation would mean greater protections and benefits abroad for millions of Americans with disabilities, including our veterans, who travel, conduct business, study, reside, or retire overseas. In encouraging other countries to join and implement the Convention, we also could help level the playing field to the benefit of American companies, who already meet high standards under United States domestic law. Improved disabilities standards abroad would also afford American businesses increased opportunities to export innovative products and technologies, stimulating job creation at home.

See here to read the full Presidential Proclamation on the Anniversary of the ADA.