Americans with Disabilities Act: Underlying Structural Philosophies

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This essay will examine the intent and the consequences of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Particular attention will be paid to the philosophical underpinnings of the legislation, the scope of the Act as implemented by Congress and interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, and whether the American people would be better served with a more carefully drafted and narrowly applied scheme of disability legislation.


As a preliminary matter, it is necessary to define what is meant by the American with Disabilities Act. This can be a daunting task, given the fact that reasonable people disagree about the scope of the Act's mandate. Most generally, the Act was conceived of as a sort of supplementary legislation for the previously enacted Civil Rights Act. The Civil Rights Act did not address issues such as employment discrimination and accommodations discrimination in the context of mental and physical disabilities. Thus, in many ways, the Americans with Disabilities Act was designed to supplement the Civil Rights Act by extending Congressional support to people with disabilities. Significantly, the general concept received widespread partisian support; indeed, when signing the bill, George H. W. Bush, a Republican President, stated,
I know there may have been concerns that the ADA may be too vague or too costly, or may lead endlessly to litigation. ...
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