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. But I want to reassure you right now that my administration and the United States Congress have carefully crafted this Act. We've all been determined to ensure that it gives flexibility, particularly in terms of the timetable of implementation; and we've been committed to containing the costs that may be incurred.... Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down ("Remarks of President": np).
It must be noted that, in these comments, President Bush acknowledged a particular problem associated with the Act. He referred, for example, to the vaguness of the Act. Indeed, when and how the Act applies has, since these remarks were made, generated fierce political debate and ongoing litigation. The context in which the Act is to be applied is not nearly so controversial as the nature of the disabilities to be covered. Initially, there seems to be little debate over context; to this end, the Americans with Disabilities Act is designed to prohibit discrimination and to guarantee access in a number of private and public contexts. For purposes of illustration, some of these contexts include employment, public services, public transporation, public accommodations, access to commercial services, and access to telecommunications technologies ("A Guide to Disability Rights Laws": 1-3). The real problem, and the source of a political debate which precedes the actual passage of the bill, centers on whom should and should not be covered by the Act (Lane: np). This political debate, as old as America itself, is concerned most specifically with whether disabilities ought to have been prioritized, that is stratified, or whether disabilities ought to have been left intentionally vague to embrace the widest possible conception of disabilities.
Before proceeding with the substance of this debate, it is important to acknowledge that Congress did exclude a few types of conditions from the scope of the Act. First, people engaging in the use of illegal drugs are not to be covered by the Act. Second, the issue of transsexuality was explicitly excluded from the Act.