Tuesday, July 26, 2005
“On the 15th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act"
Statement of Jim Ward, ADA Watch Founder and President:
On this day we recognize all who worked tirelessly to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush on July 26, 1990. We seek to honor all who worked to make this dream a reality -- the advocates, elected leaders, lawyers, lobbyists and especially the members of disability community’s grassroots which is comprised of individuals with disabilities, parents, families, friends and employers.
While this is a time to acknowledge the advances made by people with disabilities as a result of this historic civil rights law, it is essential that we examine what has not been accomplished, and what we are at risk of losing. Indeed, just last year, a study by a commission of the American Bar Association found that employers prevailed in more than 94 percent of the 327 ADA employment-related cases decided last year in federal courts. The study concluded that the legal standards within the law were being interpreted by the courts in ways that "still create obstacles for plaintiffs to overcome." Despite this imbalance in the courts, ADA opponents continue their campaign to further weaken disability rights. States continue to claim “Sovereign Immunity” – the tired doctrine of “States’ Rights” previously used to oppose civil rights protections for African Americans. Many of these cases have risen from the lower courts to the Supreme Court resulting mostly in close 5-4 decisions. Some of these decisions have eliminated the damages state employees could previously win as compensation for on-the-job discrimination. Others have narrowed the definition of disability eliminating protections for individuals with diabetes, epilepsy and mental illness. All of these 5-4 decisions remind us of the power that will be held by the current President Bush’s decision to nominate John Roberts – himself an attorney who has worked to weaken the ADA – to a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. When President George H. W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law in 1990, he declared that our nation "will not accept, we will not excuse, we will not tolerate discrimination in America." Fifteen years later, individuals with disabilities and our supporters, know that “tolerance” is still being defined.