Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. civil-rights law, enacted 1990, that forbids discrimination of various sorts against persons with physical or mental handicaps. Its primary emphasis is on enabling these persons to enter the job market and remain employed, but it also outlaws most physical barriers in public accommodations, transportation, telecommunications, and government services. Among the protected class are persons with AIDS and substance abusers who are in treatment. Some 50 million current or potential workers are estimated to be covered by the law's provisions. Studies suggest that the number of disabled persons entering the workforce has not improved significantly, and that a contributing factor may be their reluctance to lose (e.g., because personal income would exceed statutory maximums) other benefits available to them on the basis of their disabilities. The act has already been much litigated. In 1999, for instance, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that correctable conditions like eyesight requiring the use of glasses do not qualify as disabilities under the act, and a 2002 decision established that a disability must limit a person's ability to perform tasks of central importance not just in the workplace but in daily life. In response to some interpretations of the act that narrowed its enforcement, Congress enacted amendments in 2008 that were designed to make the law more inclusive.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.