Webcast archive: Americans with Disabilities Act, Part II – The Law

Today, we discuss the various areas of life covered by the ADA.

In this episode of Euthanasia & Disability, Amy Hasbrouck and Christian Debray discuss the ADA’s (Americans with Disabilities Act) 25th anniversary:

  • Part II – The Law

Please note that this text is only a script and that our webcast contains additional commentary.


  • 25 years ago, the U.S. congress passed and the president signed a law that granted a broad range of civil rights to people with disabilities, called the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
  • In our last online discussion, we talked about the laws that came before the ADA that provided some rights and access for people with disabilities
  • Today we’ll talk about the passage of the ADA, and what the law does, and doesn’t do.
  • The idea of adding disability to the protections of civil rights laws first came up in the 1970s.
  • In the early 1980s, Justin Dart, Vice Chair of the National Council of the Handicapped met with disability rights activists across the United States. He submitted a report “Toward Independence” to Congress and the president about the extent of disability discrimination and how to ensure civil rights.
    • For people with disabilities, it’s not enough to say “you’re allowed to come into our store” if there are physical barriers, or “you can participate in our event” if there is no sign language interpreter.
    • Enacting § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 helped develop the new ideas that would be necessary to realise equal rights for people with disabilities; ideas such as “reasonable accommodation,” “fundamental alteration,” and “effective communication.”
  • Toward Independence was the framework for the first version of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was filed in April of 1988.
  • That bill died at the end of the legislative session the same year, but gained the support of presidential candidate George H. W. Bush.
  • A new bill was filed in 1989 with co-sponsors from both political parties in the U.S.
    • This bi-partisan support was due in part to the 180 disability rights groups who pushed for its passage.
    • It was also due to the work of Justin Dart, a Republican disabled activist who used his influence and connections to break down resistance in the Republican party.
    • During 1988 and 1989, hearings were held throughout the country to gather testimony from people with disabilities about their experience of discrimination.
    • Local groups, such as independent living centres, worked with disabled people to make “discrimination diaries” to document the barriers and exclusion they faced every day.
  • Some members of Congress tried to add amendments that would weaken the bill, such as excluding people with HIV/AIDS from positions as food handlers. But the disability coalition held firm; everyone must be protected or the popular bill would go down in flames.
  • The bill was passed by large majorities by both houses of Congress and signed by President Bush on July 26, 1990.
  • Title I of the ADA protects against employment discrimination in all businesses with 15 or more employees.
    • Employers cannot discriminate against a qualified person with a disability who can do the essential functions of a job with or without a reasonable accommodation.
  • Title II of the ADA requires that all state and local government programs and services be accessible to people with disabilities.
    • This is similar to § 504, and covers many of the same state and local governments. Many activists consider it to be a second chance to press for enforcement of § 504’s anti-discrimination mandate, and to improve access to infrastructure and public transit.
  • Title III of the ADA requires that “Public accommodations” (private businesses that offer goods and services to the public) make those goods and services accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Public Accommodations include:
    • Hotels
    • Restaurants
    • Movie theatres
    • Conference centres
    • Retail stores
    • Dry cleaners, beauty salons or other service establishments
    • Transit stations
    • Libraries or museums
    • Health clubs
    • Social service agencies
    • Private schools
    • Parks, zoos, etc.
  • The ADA requires that all new construction meet strict federal accessibility guidelines (published with the law). It also mandates that renovations should be barrier-free, and accessibility features may need to be added to allow people to get into and use the building.
  • There is no ADA police. Enforcement comes from individual action.  People can:
    • Use the law as leverage to negotiate with a business owner or local government to create access or stop a discriminatory practice;
    • Bring a complaint with the appropriate federal agency (Department of Justice, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission);
    • File a lawsuit.
  • What do visible fire alarms and the circumference of grab bars have to do with assisted suicide and euthanasia?
    • Opposing medical killing isn’t just about maintaining life, it’s about having real choice and the best possible quality of life.
    • As long as people with disabilities are kept out of public places and services, transportation, government programs, our quality of life will be diminished.
    • We will remain out of public sight, out of the public mind, and vulnerable to public neglect.
    • And all the guarantees of equality in all the constitutions of the world will mean nothing if we can’t be out, about and integrated in our communities.