Described as one of the century's most significant pieces of civil rights legislation, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990' has been widely hailed as establishing a new foundation for disability policy Senator Harkin, the primary sponsor of the law, called it "the 20th century Emancipation Proclamation for all persons with disabilities." President Bush predicted that the Act would "open up all aspects of American life to individuals with disabilities" and end the "unjustified segregation and exclusion of persons with disabilities from the mainstream of American life."
Congress enacted the ADA to ensure "equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency" for disabled individuals. To achieve these goals, Title I of the ADA provides a "comprehensive national mandate" to end discrimination against individuals with disabilities in the workplace. Title I is intended to "remove barriers which prevent qualified individuals with disabilities from enjoying the same employment opportunities that are available to persons without disabilities." The ADA was not conceived as an affirmative action statute,but rather as one of equal opportunity, set forth "to enable disabled persons to compete in the workplace based on the same performance standards and requirements that employers expect of persons who are not disabled."
These laudable goals have yet to be realized. Ten years after the enactment of the ADA, studies have shown that people with disabilities continue to see virtually the same disadvantages in the labor market that they experienced prior to the enactment of the ADA. The disabled have not seen a decrease in their unemployment rate since 1990. Aggravating the problem, studies show that employers win an astonishingly high percentage of Title I cases under the ADA. Indeed, some commentators have statedthat "the ADA's track record in improving employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities appears dismal." These findings have led many disability advocates to question whether the ADA can lead to an improvement in employment opportunities for disabled persons.
Malloy, S. Elizabeth, "Something Borrowed, Something Blue: Why Disability Law Claims Are Different" (2001). Faculty Articles and Other Publications. 42.