What Was American Society Like Before the Americans with Disabilities Act?

In 1990, former President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. Over the last 26 years, the ADA has transformed American society. Businesses now have wheelchair ramps. Public schools now have special education courses and classroom devices that can help with hearing impairments. However, workplace discrimination against the disabled is still widespread.

What was life like before the Americans with Disabilities Act? Last year, the Washington Post published an article written by Robert L. Burgdorf Jr. that described American society before the ADA was signed into law. Burgdorf, one of the authors of the ADA, suffers from a disability that was caused by contracting polio as a child.

Before the ADA, people with disabilities were subjected to horrific discrimination. Discrimination included being denied voting in some states – either due to mental or intellectual conditions, or because of an inability to access polling locations. Those with severe disabilities were kept in unsanitary, unsafe and inhuman public facilities.

Sounds pretty bad right? It gets worse. Many people with disabilities were brutally discriminated against by employers. A personal example cited by Burgdorf occurred when he was thrown off a construction job site. The contractor said he “didn’t want any cripples on the job.”

Workplace Disability Discrimination Is Still Widespread

Despite its successes in allowing people with disabilities greater access to public and private facilities, the ADA and other anti-disability discrimination laws have fallen short in other areas. Many people with disabilities still face widespread employment discrimination. In fact, we recently wrote about this concept on our blog.

U.S. Census data collected in 2010 shows that only 41.1 percent of disabled Americans hold jobs. Similar statistics gathered by the International Labor Organization show Americans with disabilities have an employment rate 46.4 percent lower than Americans without disabilities!

Americans with disabilities are protected under federal law. It is important for this group to understand they have rights. If you know someone with a disability, we encourage you to continue following our blog and to visit our website where we have summarized rights under the ADA and other laws.

The Los Angeles labor attorneys at Kesluk, Silverstein, Jacob & Morrison, P.C. can defend workers who have been unfairly discriminated against.

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