[nfbwatlk] Disability Laws Are Not Enough to Combat Discrimination, The New York Times, July 26 2015

Nightingale, Noel Noel.Nightingale at ed.gov
Tue Aug 4 17:40:32 UTC 2015


Disability Laws Are Not Enough to Combat Discrimination
Samuel Bagenstos, the Frank G. Millard professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, was the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights at the U.S. Department of Justice from 2009 to 2011.
July 26, 2015

A little perspective helps us understand the truly revolutionary effects that the Americans with Disabilities Act has had on American society. Schools, stores, stadiums, government buildings and business enterprises of all kinds are accessible to people with all sorts of disabilities here - as are the sidewalks and public transit systems that enable people to enjoy the basic right "to live in the world," as the great disability rights activist Jacobus tenBroek put it. Americans with disabilities participate as full and visible members of our society to a degree unmatched even in other advanced industrialized countries, and the A.D.A. is the reason.

Some disabled Americans are kept out of the work force by employment discrimination, and others find barriers before they have the opportunity to apply for jobs.

In recent years, advocates and government agencies have invoked the A.D.A. to achieve yet further gains for disability equality. As a result of A.D.A. litigation, thousands of individuals with psychiatric, developmental and physical disabilities have received high-quality community-based services that have enabled them to leave hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions. And, in response to cases brought under the A.D.A., the digital divide that has excluded people with disabilities from educational, employment and recreational opportunities has begun to break down.

The one area where the A.D.A. has most clearly failed to achieve its goals is in employment. Department of Labor statistics show that roughly two-thirds of working-age people with disabilities remain out of the work force (compared to about a quarter of working-age people without disabilities). Those numbers are not materially different than they were when Congress adopted the A.D.A. in 1990.

This failure reflects the inherent limitations of an antidiscrimination law. Some disabled Americans are kept out of the work force by employment discrimination. For many others, though, barriers to employment occur long before they have the opportunity even to apply for jobs: the structure of our health care system, under which people with disabilities can lose important Medicaid coverage if they take remunerative jobs; the continuing lack of accessible transportation and technology; and the failure of the government to fund personal attendant services and employment supports.

If we are to achieve the goal of making people with disabilities full and equal members of the work force, we will need not just antidiscrimination laws but social welfare programs that will overcome these barriers.

More information about the NFBWATlk mailing list