Hypatia 16.4 (2001) 147-155
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Americans with Disabilities:
Exploring Implications of the Law for Individuals and Institutions
Americans with Disabilities: Exploring Implications of the Law for Individuals and Institutions. Edited by LESLIE PICKERING FRANCIS and ANITA SILVERS. New York: Routledge, 2000.
On July 26, 1990, President George Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA had been a long time coming. Efforts to amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to explicitly include people with disabilities failed for various conceptual and political reasons. Although other laws enacted from the late 1960s through the late 1980s went some way toward ensuring public access to persons with disabilities, these did not have the strength and scope of the rights guaranteed to women and minorities by the Civil Rights Act and other civil rights laws of the time. Frustrated with piecemeal legislation that did not ensure full civil rights protections for the disabled, members of the disability community set out to develop a comprehensive federal statute that would prohibit discrimination based on disability. The resulting statute was found by Congress to have several purposes, including "eliminating arbitrary prohibitions against being in the world, ending inequality of opportunity, and reducing the costs to the United States of unnecessary dependency [by breaking down barriers that would allow more disabled persons to work]" (Francis and Silvers 2000, xx). As the editors of this volume point out, these goals of the Act are not always completely compatible, and over the decade that the ADA has been in place, the "strains" among them have become increasingly significant. Many of the papers in this collection speak to just these strains.
Title I of the ADA prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of disability and balances equality of opportunity for the disabled against the costs of accommodation to employers. Title II prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in publicly provided services, programs, or activities. Title III prohibits discrimination in public accommodations that are provided in the private sector. Title IV requires that telecommunications companies offering telephone service to the general public must have telephone relay service to individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf or similar devices. Title V prohibits either (a) coercing or threatening or (b) retaliating against the disabled or those attempting to aid people with disabilities in asserting their rights under the ADA.
The ADA's protection extends, in the first instance, to disabled persons. [End Page 147] An individual is disabled under the provisions of the Act if she or he (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of her/his major life activities, (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Title V of the Act also protects certain nondisabled individuals, such as parents, who have an association with an individual known to have a disability, and those who are coerced or subjected to retaliation for assisting people in securing their ADA rights. While the employment provisions of the ADA apply to employers with fifteen or more employees, its public accommodations provisions apply to all businesses, regardless of number of employees, and all state and local governments.
The editors rightly point out that in comparison to the literature on sex and race following the Civil Rights Act, there has been little theoretical discussion of disability in the wake of the ADA. Yet, a great number and variety of questions arise in regard to the ADA, and the purpose of this volume is to address some of these on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the statute.
These include questions about the meaning of "disability" and precisely who is protected under the law; the closely related question of the nature of disability--whether we should understand disability as a feature of individuals, that is, "a biological or medical personal limitation," or a feature of society, that is, "a social limitation imposed on people in virtue of their physical or mental differences" (Francis and Silvers 2000, 87); whether the ADA...