Rights to Live

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Americans with Disabilities Act
& Workplace Discrimination

Introduction
Disabled Americans are entering higher education in growing numbers, seeking opportunities to contribute to the rapidly growing workforce. Enrolling within public universities and four-year programs each year, disabled students are consistently expanding the population of individuals with physical or sensory challenges, testing the boundaries between what is considered impossible for an individual with particular physical challenges to their well-being or developmental abilities.

Exclusion is the opiate to the masses who are able to walk with both feet, speak, hear, see and move without any pain or affliction, or learn without the assistance of medication and special education tutoring.

Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1981 is legislation passed by the U.S. Congress and enacted by President George H. W. Bush. This act was designed to “prohibit private companies, state and local governments, employment agencies, labor unions or other organizations, from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in the application for employment, hiring, firing, advancement, compensation, job training, and other terms, conditions, and privileges of employment,” (EEOC.gov). This act is a wide-ranging civil rights law and affords similar protections against discrimination to those with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discriminatory practices or behaviors against citizens based on race, religion, sex, national origin and other characteristics. While many politicians and the population at large may believe the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ended a majority of discrimination against disabled individuals on a broad scale – nothing could be farther from the truth. Despite the law, liability issues for employers and federal enforcement strategies, discriminatory practices continue to challenge disabled Americans in the pursuit of affordable housing, access to public places, and access to quality education. However, out of all the categories of discrimination against the disabled community, workplace discrimination remains the most detrimental bias against disabled Americans, and is the most difficult discrimination action to prove (EEOC.gov). The EEOC reports that workplace discrimination increased in 2010, and although enforcement has been attempted, many cases are not pursued due to overworked staff and a majority of claims are settled out of court – leaving little opportunities for public examples of the consequences for flouting ADA requirements and standards (Spayd, 1992). Additionally, all reports of workplace discrimination offer few options to the disabled worker, and even as the state or EEOC investigates the worker is either unemployed, on leave, or continuing to work for the business in question. The report process relies on the employee facing discriminatory treatment to speak out while very few colleagues will support the claims, and the burden of proof relies on the disabled individual – a heavy responsibility when faced with simply remaining quiet. My research will demonstrate that the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1981, as well as the following amendments over the subsequent 20 years, has had some effect on discriminatory behavior toward disabled individuals, yet discrimination in the workplace continues unabated in many businesses. Furthermore, I will explore the extensive evidentiary burden placed on disabled plaintiffs in lawsuits against employers, not only to prove that the plaintiff is indeed sufficiently impaired by a medical condition before issues of discrimination will be reviewed within the legal process. This paper will also discuss the current increase of workplace discrimination against ADA-qualified workers, the socio-attitudes from “average” citizens toward the disabled in the American workforce, as well as the...
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