The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990 as Public Law 101-336. However, the law didn't become effective until January 26, 1992. The ADA is federal legislation that opened up services and employment opportunities to the millions of Americans with disabilities. This law was written to help balance the reasonable accommodation of citizens' needs and the capacity of private and public entities to respond. It was put into place to get rid of illegal discrimination and level the playing field for disabled individuals.
In advocating rights for disabled people, many have worked to establish several important principles. One is that they be considered on the basis of individual merit, not on stereotyped assumptions about disabilities. Another is that society must make certain changes to enable the disabled to participate more easily in business and social activities such as providing wheelchair access to public transportation, building entrances, and theaters. A third principle is that, to the extent appropriate for each individual, disabled people should be mainstreamed with people who do not have disabilities.
Components of the Legislation
This law is made up of five titles that prohibit discrimination against disabled persons in the United States. Titles I and II of this legislation affect local government.
Title I addresses the area of employment. It states that places of business must provide accessible facilities to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment. Changes might include restructuring jobs, altering the layout of workstations, or modifying equipment. Employment aspects may include the application process, hiring, wages, benefits, and all other aspects of employment. Medical examinations are specific and may be monitored.
During the 1998-99 term of the United States Supreme Court, a major area of focus was on defining the American with Disabilities Act. The justices reviewed whether former employees could sue their former employers for violations of the act even though the former employees were seeking full disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Various cases and their resolutions were evaluated. The Supreme Court agreed to decide if former employees could sue employers for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act even though the claimants already sought full disability benefits under Social Security. The addition of the ADA case, Cleveland vs. Policy Management Systems Corporation, to the docket was a significant case for employers. The question that was to be answered with this case is whether workers who made disability claims with Social Security and then collected disability payments might also pursue claims against employers under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Carolyn Cleveland was the plaintiff in this case. She suffered a stroke and applied for Social Security benefits. When the doctor released her to return to work, she notified the Social Security Administration that she no longer needed the benefits. She returned to work, but then had trouble with her job responsibilities and was fired. She filed again for Social Security disability benefits but before she received them, she sued her former employer under the ADA. A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Ms. Cleveland in 1997.
Title II states that public services and other commuter authorities, cannot deny services to people with disabilities the right to participate in programs or activities that are available to people without disabilities. This includes all state and local governments. In addition, any public transportation systems, such as public transit buses, must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
Public accommodations are defined in Title III. New construction must be designed to be accessible for individuals with disabilities. Facilities that already exist must be remodeled so that any barrier to services may be removed. Public accommodations include facilities such as restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, retail stores, and so on, as well as privately owned transportation systems.
Telecommunications is the subject of Title IV. Telecommunications companies offering telephone service to the general public must have telephone relay service to individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TTYs) or similar devices.
Title V covers miscellaneous issues. It includes a provision that prohibits either coercing or threatening disabled individuals. It also protects the disabled from retaliation or those attempting to aid people with disabilities in asserting their rights under the ADA. Protection is extended, in limited form, to those with addiction disorders. However, many addicted individuals are denied ADA protection because of exclusionary criteria in the ADA itself and because of increasingly restrictive interpretations of the ADA in recent cases. The benefit to the addicted persons, and to the larger society, is lost when unfair discriminatory practices preclude employment of otherwise qualified, though stigmatized, individuals (Westreich, 2002).
In a landmark decision, the United States Supreme Court Justices shot down claims that correctable eyesight and high blood pressure qualify people for protection along with financial compensation, under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. These are the three cases that were denied in lower courts:
Sutton et.al v. United Airlines, Inc.: Kimberly Hilton and Karen Sutton sued United Airlines, claiming United violated the ADA by denying them the opportunity to become pilots due to their nearsightedness. United says it did not hire the two women due to its vision standard.
Kirkingburg v. Albertson's, Inc.: Hallie Kirkingburg sued Albertson's, claiming Albertson's violated the ADA by not allowing him to drive trucks for them, because he experienced near blindness in one eye, he failed the Department of Transportation vision test. The DOT however granted him a waiver to drive.
Murphy v. United Parcel Service: Vaughn Murphy sued United Parcel Service, claiming UPS violated the ADA by firing him due to his hypertension (Carelli, 1999).
The passing of this legislation opened the doors for many disabled Americans who were mentally fit and with proper training, could also complete the duties assigned by an employer.
Table 1 contains annual estimates of earnings and the value of selected welfare benefits for the United States population 21 to 64 years of age It shows the large impact disability status has on both earnings and welfare. Overall, individuals 21 to 64 years of age had $3.6 trillion dollars in earnings and received $14.6 billion in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) payments, $17.6 billion in Social Security payments, $13.3 billion in food stamps, and $50.7 billion in Medicaid benefits. Individuals with a severe disability received 2.9% of aggregate earnings, 34.2% of TANF benefits, 100% of SS benefits, 33.1% of food stamps, and 66.9% of Medicaid benefits. There is a significant financial benefit to a disabled person if they are properly trained for employment. While some modifications may be needed at the workplace, providing jobs for the disabled not only helps that person, but the total economy as well by eliminating the need for complete government financial assistance.
Distribution of Earning and Benefits Received by Individuals 21 to 64 Years Old by Disability Status (United States Census Bureau, 1997)
All disability statuses
With a severe disability
With a nonsevere disability
Employment of the Disabled in the State of Florida
Much progress has been accomplished in the state of Florida regarding the employment of the disabled. The vision statement of Florida states that:
Floridians with disabilities will be provided the tools necessary to make informed choices and decisions to achieve equality of opportunity, full inclusion and integration in society, employment, independent living, and economic and social self-sufficiency (Florida State Disability Plan, 2002).
The state of Florida has worked hard to develop goals and objectives to meet the needs of the state's disabled citizens. The Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) works to educate and train employers on the advantages of hiring disabled Floridians. Florida has carefully written a state plan to address the needs and rights of the disabled who have the capability to work. The Florida Rehabilitation Council (FRC) is made up of representatives from many backgrounds including business, industry and labor, Statewide Independent Living Council, the Client Assistance Program, service providers, Workforce Investment Boards, VR Counselors, consumers, and consumer advocates, and includes parents of consumers from throughout the State of Florida.
The FRC has worked to develop a strategy for identifying the needs of Floridians with disabilities. Public meetings were held and the 2001- 02 State Plan submission had input from many areas. Florida reviews the plan on an ongoing basis, with representatives from the FRC serving as a member of the Agency's Policy Team. The development and review of policies and procedures for the provision of services to individuals with disabilities is continuos and the Agency continues to identify other appropriate opportunities to further strengthen this collaborative relationship with the FRC (Florida State Rehabilitation Plan, 2002).
The agency provides and coordinates training regarding the employment aspects of ADA while providing assistance to identify and provide needed job accommodations for workers with disabilities. They also work to advise employers on how to modify work areas to become barrier-free facilities. As part of the training…