Ani B. Satz


The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. After twenty years of struggle and compromise by civil rights and disability advocacy groups, the legislation was hailed as a victory. The Act established civil rights protection for disabled persons in the workplace and in the provision of services (most notably transportation services) and public accommodation. The Act sought to "provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities ... [via] clear, strong, consistent, enforceable standards."

Fifteen years later, the Act is widely recognized as a failure. Judicial construction of the eligibility requirements of the Act severely undermines disability protections. In 1999, the United States Supreme Court, in opposition to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines at the time, held that plaintiffs' eligibility for disability protections must be determined after measures to mitigate disability are employed. The definition of disability, "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one ... of the major life activities," has met other judicial bars with regard to the interpretation of "substantial" and "major life activity."