The Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA as defined properly, is a law “that prohibits the discrimination on the basis of disability in employment, State and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, transportation, and telecommunications. It also applies to the United States Congress.” (United States Department of Justice) The law protects people that have disabilities, or are in any way related or associated with an individual who suffers from disability. In this case, disability may mean physical or mental impairment that limits a person’s “major life activities.”
The Americans with Disabilities Act, although seen as something which promotes equality and fairness, has not escaped serious challenges. For one, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC has had difficulties handling the numerous numbers of complaints that it receives over periods of time. In a study by Moss & Johnsen, the EEOC found that problems such as understaffing, insufficiency in allocated time for investigation, and the inadequacy of travel and training funds have had its impact on the effectiveness in upholding the ADA. (Stephen 2001) Another problem which plagued the ADA is that it did not clearly state what specific kinds of disabilities it encompasses; it simply gave out a vague scope of physical and mental disability. (United States Department of Justice)
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One of the strengths of the act though, is that it has given ample opportunities to people who suffer from any kind of disability to be able to participate in the American work force. This is important because having disabilities does not mean that one is less capable in working for the benefit of him/her or the society in general. The law has recognized this and was able to cater to the problem by protecting not only their basic employment rights but also the things which extend far beyond the work area; take for example the telecommunications act which mandates manufacturers to provide equipment that are accessible to people with disabilities, this is extremely helpful because it does not hinder people with disabilities such as polio to participate in a job such as a customer service assistant. (United States Department of Justice)
Another strength which comes from the implementation of the said law is that it gives the persons with disabilities proper recognition that they need special attention to be able to function similar to normal persons, and the law also caters to those needs through mandates and ordinances.
Not everything about the ADA is positive, although the law has become a mandate, it would not easy to follow, especially because it would require special attention. Take for example the case of Neato Burrito in Greater Harrisburg, PA. According to the law, the establishment has committed a violation because it has no “entrance” accessible to people using wheelchairs. (Pizzoli) One problem is that making room for these “entrances” costs money, and a letter to the owners of Neato Burrito required them to do just that; he was told that he could “remove the entire front façade, making room for a ramp not on city-owned sidewalk.” (Pizzoli) But the problem was that his business – a restaurant will be reduced to a measly 200 square feet. The owner was also the one to shoulder the expenses of the said proposal for a ramp.
The argument that can be raised from this concrete example is that the strict implementation of such a law would require inconsiderable amounts of money to reform and repair buildings and other infrastructure once it is labeled as a violator. The Americans with Disability Act has a negative effect not only on businesses but also the government because surely enough, not every business person has the luxury to modify or change their establishments in a whim.
The disability rights movement, a movement which founded several centers called Center for Independent Living was founded by activists mainly from Berkeley, California. (Berkeley), the group, which aimed to fight for the civil rights of the disabled such as equal opportunities in employment, ample shelter, and the right to education has seen several successes throughout its 37 years of existence. Most notable of all is their aid in the passing of the laws which has helped this marginalized sector voice out their stresses and opinions. These laws, including the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, have made sure that people with all sorts of disabilities have access to their civil rights.
Perhaps, one of the most amazing examples which might have had an influence on the establishment of the ADA can be drawn out from Franklin Roosevelt. Roosevelt was already in public office when his disability started to manifest itself, to everyone’s surprise, Roosevelt suffered from the dreaded polio virus which hampered the victim’s legs. What was striking about Roosevelt was that although struck so suddenly with a disease such as polio, it never stopped him from realizing his full potential, he was able to help the United States rise up from its bad condition and somehow lead it to the way it is today.(Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial)
This success story was not only a victory for the country; it was a silent victory for people with disabilities because the life of Roosevelt proved that people with disabilities are not hindrances to society, rather, they can be as productive as any normal person can be. This might have become the inspiration for the advocates of the ADA, to prove not just to themselves, but to everyone else, that they can achieve something despite their disability.
Even with this victory, though, the movement has still not been able to end the discrimination and the mistreatment of this group of people. As striking as their victories are, the disability rights movement still has not been able to eliminate the negative notions regarding people with disabilities, and these people are still objects of pity, one show/media tool that portrayed these people as pitiful is the Jerry Lewis annual telethon for the disabled. (Dewitt) Jerry Lewis’ telethon is a show which aimed to collect donations for the protection of “Jerry’s Kids” or people with disability. The telethon portrays people with disability as people which people should cared for and pitied, not as people who have the strength to make changes given that they are provided with their civil rights.
The disability rights movement has shown the world that social movements can and will grow given certain conditions. The movement was able to unite together people with all types of disability, whether it is physical, sensory, or mental, and form a coalition strong enough to become an avenue to voice out their concerns. (Shapiro) The group was able to show to the world, not just other social movements that indeed movements can evolve amidst pressure and other barriers such as disability.
“FDR’s Struggle with Disability.” Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. 3 April 2009. < http://www.nps.gov/fdrm/fdr/struggle.htm>
This web page talks about the disability of Franklin Roosevelt. It has educated me about Franklin Roosevelt’s disability, his struggle with polio and how he found out that he had it. It talks about the doctors’ mistake in diagnosing his sickness which caused him to just accept his disability and not let it hinder him in his field of work. It also talks about he fought his disability and the irony which he had to live with: he was able to lift the country he served out of poverty, but was not able to lift himself from his wheelchair.
“Introduction”. The Disabilities Rights and Independent Living Movement. 3 April 2009 < http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/collections/drilm/introduction.html>
This site talks about how the first ever Center for Independent Living was founded in 1972 by Californian activists and how it has grown in numbers throughout the years, not just in the United States, but also around the world. It also highlights the three major legislations that the movement was able to put into paper, namely: the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1973, and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
Dewitt, Donna. Personal Correspondence. June 28, 2001. April 3, 2009 <http://www.cripcommentary.com/AFL-CIOletter.html
This letter talks about the call for the boycotting of Jerry Lewis’ TV marathon which sparked the anger of the members of the disability rights movement because they were being marketed as pitiful people, not people who are demanding their civil rights.
“Americans with Disabilities Act.” United States Department of Justice. April 3, 2009. <
This website is the official link to the Americans with Disabilities Act. It provides all the information needed regarding the law, its implementation, its impact and other important details. This is the official law amended and passed in the Senate.
“Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon: Frequently Asked Questions.” MDA Telethon. April 3, 2009. < http://www.mda.org/telethon/faqs.html>
This web source explains all there is to know about the telethon, how it was built, its history, as well as the accomplishments that is coupled by big named celebrities such as Celine Dion, etc.
Pizzoli, Frank. “Neato Burrito Shows ADA Weakness.” Mode weekly. April 3, 2009. http://www.modeweekly.com/1999/99.11.24/NeatoBurrito_99.11.24.htm
This website provides a case study on one of the weakness of the implementation of the ADA. It talks about the difficulties of both the business and the government in implementing the said law and offers ideas on the weaknesses of the ADA.
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