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Did the American With Disabilities Act of 1990 Help Get More Disabled People Employment?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was enacted to “assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency to persons with disabilities.” But has the ADA done its job?

After more than 25 years, how has the ADA impacted employment for the disabled?

Today, people with disabilities are less likely to be employed than they were before the law was enacted.  Workers with disabilities earn, on average, about $14,000 less than similar workers without disabilities.  About one in every three disabled Americans lives in poverty.  Only 17 percent of those with disabilities were employed last year; another 12 percent actively sought employment, but were unsuccessful. Advocates say discrimination still persists a quarter-century after landmark civil rights legislation guaranteed equal access for people with disabilities.

In the workplace, nothing has changed. Employers fear hiring a person with a disability because of “liability” concerns. Another popular excuse is that they do not want to make exceptions for one employee and not for others.

Did the ADA fail?

It is difficult to clearly determine whether the ADA did or did not influence disability employment because there are so many other factors that can impact the statistics.  In 2008, there was a major blow to the American economy and unemployment increased by leaps and bounds. Additionally, the baby boomers have come of age and this aging population means more people looking for jobs that have some sort of age-related disability.

And yet there are many large employers that have successfully integrated disabled workers’ into their hiring plan.  Walmart is one of the largest employers of individuals with disabilities.  Walgreens also has a good track record for hiring individuals who are disabled.  There are many agencies that are assisting the disabled to find employment through job coaching and working with organizations to find out the requirements for the jobs available to match disabled individuals to the jobs.

The positive effects of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 cannot be denied.  Unfortunately, the goal of ensuring equal opportunity has been difficult to achieve.  The goal for the future of the ADA should be to concentrate on improving employment opportunity for all disabled individuals and paying them adequately to achieve independent living and economic self-sufficiency.  As those organizations that have embraced these goals can attest, it is a win-win situation for all.