Ruby Afram


From its inception in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been a groundbreaking piece of civil rights legislation: a highly flexible, individually responsive law that intended to bring "some 43,000,000" disabled Americans into society's mainstream. To ensure the envisioned access and opportunity, the ADA sought to replicate for people with disabilities the type of protections that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provided to women and minorities. It barred discrimination on the basis of disability in employment and required that all public entities and public accommodations provided by private entities be accessible to the disabled population. The law was controversial, however, because it differed in an important way from traditional civil rights legislation. The civil rights movement had articulated a fundamental imperative: "[D]iscrimination according to characteristics irrelevant to job performance and the denial of access to public accommodations and public services was... against the law." When that imperative played out in the course of everyday life it resulted in businesses opening their doors and their organizations to a wider swath of society. Generally, however, it did not require them to change the way they did business, just whom they included - in economic terms, a relatively inexpensive adjustment. In comparison, the ADA was invasive legislation; it imposed affirmative duties on companies to adjust the way they did business in order to accommodate the special needs of their employees and clients. Even though the law limited the burden on employers by requiring that they make modifications for employees and clients only when the adjustments were easy to achieve and of reasonable expense, the ADA imposed new costs on all entities required to comply with its mandates.