The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The rights of handicapped persons to enjoy equal employment opportunities were established on the federal level with the enactment of the “Rehabilitation Act of 1973” (29 U.S.C. 701-794). Although “not designed specifically as an employment discrimination measure but rather as a comprehensive plan to meet many of the needs of the handicapped” (Twomey, 2001, p.540). The Rehabilitation Act provided three sections (sections 501,503,504) that prevented discrimination in employment. Section 501 was applicable to the federal government itself. Section 503, applied to federal contractors. Finally, section 504 applied to the recipients of federal funds.
On Tuesday, the 23rd of January 1990, a “clear and comprehensive prohibition of discrimination on the bases of disability” was established by the One Hundred First Congress of the United States of America in its second session (D.O.L, 2003). The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, which is estimated to cover over, 43 million Americans with disabilities, went into full effect in January of 1992. Considered a “Bill of Rights for Americans with a wide variety of disabilities” the act applies to employment, public accommodations, transportation, telecommunications, State and the federal government (Holley, Jennings, Wolters, 2001, p. 424). The passage of the ADA “expanded the scope and impact of laws and regulations” on discrimination against individuals with disabilities (Jackson, Mathis, 2003, p. 112).
The ADA affects more than just employment matters. All employers with 15 or more employees, fall under the provisions of the ADA. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing the “employment provisions of the ADA under the same procedures as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964” (Jackson, Mathis, 2003, p. 112).
In 2001, “17 percent of the population of the United States, was considered legally disabled” (Holley, Jennings, Wolters, 2001, p. 424). At the time of the ADA’s passage in 1990, “two-thirds of people with disabilities between the ages of 16 and 64” were unemployed. However, “66 percent indicated that they would prefer to be employed” (Holley, Jennings, Wolters, 2001, p. 424). As Boone & Kurtz points out, “with the rising education level and the influence of the American with Disabilities Act, disabled people will be entering the workforce in increasing numbers” (1999, p. 314).
To be protected by the ADA, one must have a disability, or have a relationship or association with an individual with a disability. An individual with a disability is defined by the ADA as a person who has “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the life activity of such individual, or, a record of such an impairment, or, being regarded as having such an impairment” (D.O.L. 2003). The ADA does not specifically name all of the impairments that are covered.
Considerable controversy has occurred over the meaning and application of the term disabled person. The U.S. Supreme Court has clarified this controversy to some extent by ruling that persons with impairments that are correctable are not disabled within the meaning of the ADA. On June 22, 1999, the Supreme Court issued three decisions setting forth a narrowing view of the meaning of what is considered a disability. In Sutton v. United Airlines, the Court rejected the arguments on behalf of Suttons that “they were regarded as disabled because they were precluded from engaging in the major life activity of working in the job of global airline pilot”, which it considered a class of employment (Jentz, Miller, 2003, p. 938-939). The Court Pointed out that by its terms the ADA allows employers “to prefer some physical attributes over others and to establish physical criteria” for positions without being in violation of the Act (Jentz, Miller, 2003, p....