Additionally, a potential employer or labor union may not require medical examinations for any position unless that employer requires a medical examination of every candidate for that position. Employers are not required to treat alcohol or drug addiction or abuse as a disability (Facts about the Americans with Disabilities Act).
This legislation is certainly the opposite of the way that disabilities have been handled throughout history. Even as early as the fourth century, hospices were created for such disabilities as blindness (in Caesarea, a city in modern-day Turkey) (Davis 89). Even though disabled persons have made up the largest physical minority in the American population for many years now, though, very little attention has been paid historically to the rights of the disabled. There has also been little attention paid in the academic community to disability studies, a lacuna in academia that is slowly being filled as time goes by (Davis 1). This may be based on the fact that the vast majority of the public discriminates against the disabled, on more levels than majorities discriminate against ethnic or lifestyle minorities, and it may also be based on the fact that people with disabilities are less in the public eye than members of ethnic or lifestyle minorities, because they are not as active participants in public society because of their perceived, or actual, limitations.
This is not to say that the Americans with Disabilities Act has not has positive effects for the disabled living in the United States. Progress has been made on many fronts. For example, government regulations for buildings now include requirements for such accommodations as elevators and ramps. As a result, the physically disabled now are able to be far more visible in society than they once were (Potier).
However, the law has not had all of the effects that its writers and supporters had hoped. Of the discrimination lawsuits filed since the bill was signed in 1990, 90 percent have ended up in favor of the employer, rather than the alleged victim. As a percentage of the population, the disabled are represented in the ranks of the employed at about the same level that they were in 1990 (Potier).
One reason for the low success rate of these lawsuits may be the quality of legal representation. Because plaintiff's attorneys in damages cases are paid a percentage of the damages, and because damages are so infrequently rewarded to disabilities rights victims, it is difficult to get lawyers of quality to take their cases. Other reasons include a reluctance by the American judiciary to interfere with the ways that employers operate their businesses - a laissez-faire approach, that, on the surface, goes back to the desire for independence that was one of the philosophical building blocks of our nation. Cases that request accommodations, for this reason, are very rarely successful, while cases that focus on the discrimination that comes with stigma, on the other hand, are more often successful (Potier).
This ambivalent set of effects that the Americans with Disabilities Act has had for disability rights is typical of many of the advances made by the disability rights movement. One example is the Jerry Lewis telethon, held every Labor Day to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. While this event brings in millions of dollars for muscular dystrophy research and treatment every year, it