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Fewer disabled Americans employed now than before passage of ADA

It has been a quarter of a century since the Americans with Abilities Act was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush. One of the primary goals of the ADA was to improve employment opportunities for those considered to be disabled under the Act by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations.

Specifically, the ADA prohibits employers (private and government) with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals who are otherwise qualified for a position by making a reasonable accommodation for their employment. The alleged discrimination can take many forms: in the application process, hiring and firing, compensation, training, promotions and advancements, and even perks and benefits of employment. 

So has the law accomplished what it was designed to do in the employment context? Some say not so much.

In a recent National Public Radio interview, Michael Morris, the executive director of the National Disability Institute, says that people with disabilities are less likely to be working now than before the Act was passed.  According to a Cornell University study, about fifteen percent of disabled adults are now in the workforce as compared to about twice that many in the year the Act was signed. So how has the law that was supposed to make employment opportunities more plentiful for those with disabilities actually made the situation worse?

Several forces are at work.  Morris says that disabled students are less likely to graduate from high school and college, making it more difficult for them to compete in the job market. He also points out that many disabled individuals receive government assistance in the form of disability payments, and they could lose those benefits and paid medical care if they make more than $2000 a month.

But another theory is that employers are afraid of the ADA: by not knowing exactly what is required of them under the law, they choose to just avoid offering jobs to those with disabilities to avoid what they think would be the road to litigation. 

Regardless of the reasons, many Americans with disabilities in Wisconsin and throughout the country are not able to avail themselves of the opportunities the ADA was meant to provide. If you are disabled and have been unable to find or keep employment and believe that you have been discriminated against because of your disability, consult an employment law attorney to determine your rights under the law.

Source: NPR, “On ADA Anniversary, Some Blame The Law For Low Employment,” Pam Fessler, July 26, 2015

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