Fallacy And Truth About The ADA
Washington Post, July 18, 1995
All of the current attacks on the ADA pander to one basic fallacy
which is seldom spoken, but deeply rooted in the attitudinal
heritage of every culture.
Fallacy: People with serious disabilities are not fully human.
They form a small minority whose fate is only marginally relevant
to the concerns of ordinary people. The old approach: They are
possessed by devils. Kill them. Banish them. Let them starve. The
"enlightened" approach: They are tragic victims. Take care of
them through welfare and charity. Give the presentable ones
something to do, "hire the handicapped." Keep the ugly and the
"crazy" ones out of sight. ADA? Equal rights? Equal investments?
Equal power? "The inmates running the asylum?" Ridiculous! An
"excess of compassion," a violation of "common sense."
Truth: Science is creating a new human being. We live twice as long
as we once did. Disability used to signal the end of active life.
Now it is a common characteristic of a normal lifespan. Sooner or
later it will occur in the lives of most people, surely in the life
of every family. Almost all new humans, including those with severe
disabilities, have a proven potential to achieve far greater levels
of productivity and prosperity than our strongest, smartest pre-
science ancestors. Yet for the vast majority, with and without
disabilities, that magnificent potential remains unfulfilled,
because we allow obsolete attitudes to limit new abilities.
Fallacy: The ADA costs too much. It will bankrupt businesses and
Truth: There have been no bankruptcies, no serious economic
problems caused by the ADA. Not one. There never will be. The
ADA specifically states that no public entity or business can be
forced to do anything that will result in an undue financial
burden. The ADA states that when necessary alternative services
can be delivered to citizens with disabilities in ways that are
equitable and cost effective.
Seventy percent of working age Americans with disabilities are
unemployed. Millions are forced to depend on public or private
welfare. President George Bush estimated that this costs our
nation almost $200 billion cash every year. Who pays? Who else?
Individual tax payers, businesses, families.
Historically, every time America has extended civil rights to
another oppressed minority, the entire nation has prospered. The
ADA clears the way for the members of our poorest, most welfare
dependent minority to work, to pay taxes, to be customers and
fully, contributing participants in their communities.
Fallacy: The ADA will cause an avalanche of litigation and
Truth: No avalanche. As of January 1, 1995, less than one fiftieth
of one percent of the entities covered by the ADA had actually been
sued under the law. Of course there have been a few frivolous
claims. Every new law is tested. Every right Americans have is
subject to occasional abuse.
Fallacy: The ADA signals "The Death of Common Sense." It imposes
rigid, irrational regulations on businesses and communities.
Truth: Written in cooperation with the business oriented Bush
administration, the ADA is a model common sense, free enterprise
civil rights law. It provides regulatory guidelines, but gives
business owners and local community officials unprecedented
discretion to ask and to answer the most important questions: "Can
I afford this accommodation?" "Is there another way to provide
equality cheaper?" "Is this the most qualified person for the job?"
Fallacy: The ADA definition of disability is "loosely written."
All kinds of people are claiming to have disabilities that do not
fit traditional definitions.
Truth. The traditional definitions are wrong. There are far more
people with real disabilities than Americans thought - 49 million
and going up. There are far more kinds of disabilities and
discrimination than Americans thought. The major component of the
ADA definition of disability is simple and clear: "a physical or
mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life
activities." It allows courts, public officials, businesspersons
and ordinary citizens to make common sense decisions based on
The truth is that ADA does not need to be trashed - or rewritten -
it needs to be implemented. The world is watching. Will we use
science and free enterprise to empower the new human? Failure is
unthinkable. Success will mean the culture of our dreams.