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Supreme Court Upholds ADA 'Integration Mandate' in Olmstead decision

Washington, DC, June 22, 1999 -- The U. S. Supreme Court today ruled in three cases under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In ruling against plaintiffs in the three cases, the Supreme Court has shown that its understanding of what the ADA intended is far from the understanding of those who drafted the statute.

The ADA was intended to protect individuals "with various medical conditions" that, are "ordinarily are perfectly 'correctable' with medication or treatment."

These cases, to echo Justice John Paul Steven's dissent in Sutton, "not about whether petitioners are genuinely qualified or whether they can perform the job of an airline pilot without posing an undue safety risk." They are about "whether the ADA lets petitioners in the door in the same way as the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 does for every person who is at least 40 years old, ... and as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does for every single individual in the work force."

These cases at their core were about whether companies can refuse to hire or promote people qualified to do the job -- refuse them on the basis of the employer's perceptions about disability, even if the company are, as Justice Stevens puts it, "acting purely on the basis of irrational fear and stereotype."


. . . . Many people with disabilities say they want to work but can't do so for a variety of reasons -- lower-than-average wages, lack of access to health care, attitudes of coworkers and employers that fail to offer equal opportunity.

[Robert Samuelson's June 30 Washington Post op-ed] obscures the ADA's key goal. The ADA is a civil rights law. As such, it does not need to define disability -- and it shields all people against discrimination.

When faced with discrimination, all people's problems are serious, whatever their level of ability. We must promote change in the attitudes and environments that foster this discrimination. The ADA can only be as good as the people it protects.

William Stothers, Deputy Director
The Center for An Accessible Society

Printed in The Washington Post July 3, 1999

. . . The ADA and the Social Security Act define "disability" in different ways. The Social Security Act uses a narrow definition, because the basic purpose of the Social Security law is to provide benefits to people who are so disabled they can't work. The ADA has a different purpose, to protect people from discrimination, and you don't have to be very disabled to experience discrimination. In fact, plenty of employers have treated people unfairly because of minor conditions.

Under the recent Supreme Court decision in the Sutton case, a person can be fired from a job because the employer finds out he or she has epilepsy, for example, and yet if that person were taking medication to control the epilepsy, he or she would be barred from fighting back using the ADA. Furthermore, a person with epilepsy that is controlled with medication would not fit the Social Security definition of disability, which means this person has neither law to fall back on.

Deborah Kaplan, Director
World Institute on Disability

Printed in The Washington Post July 3, 1999








Expert sources

From the Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers:

Historical Context of the ADA

ADA definition of disability

Overview of law's structure

The ADA is changing the landscape of America -- commentary

"The ADA changed my life" -- personal stories

The meaning of "disability" under ADA

"A misunderstood law" -- commentary

The ADA Notification Act

Supreme Court ADA decisions:

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