Twenty-three years ago this week, President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), landmark legislation that guaranteed equal opportunity for people with disabilities in public accommodations, commercial facilities, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.
On July 26, 1990, as the president put his pen to the bill sponsored by Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa—whose brother was deaf—Bush declared it “the most important civil rights legislation in the last century.”
The ADA defines a covered disability as “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity”—a definition that has weathered many challenges. In 2008 President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act, which gave workers with disabilities broader protections by adding the following to the list of “major life activities”: “caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating, and working.” The act overturned a 1999 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that held that a person was not disabled if an impairment could be corrected by mitigating measures, and stated that impairment must be determined without considering such measures.
When the law was first signed, it affected 43 million Americans; today it applies to 56.7 million people with disabilities living in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s nearly 1 in 5—or 19 percent—of the civilian non-institutionalized population. Their disabilities affect their sight, hearing, speech, mobility, learning and mental health. Their disabilities have names such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, autism, cerebral palsy, dyslexia and depression.
Below are some key Census Bureau statistics about Americans with disabilities:
--The state with the highest disability rate: West Virginia. Nineteen percent of the civilian non-institutionalized population in the state has disabilities.
--The state with the lowest disability rate: Utah, with 9 percent.
--The number of those ages 18 to 64 with disabilities who have jobs: 1 in 3.
--The most common jobs for people with disabilities: janitorial work and dishwashing.
--The median annual income for people with disabilities: $19,735.
--The median annual income for people without disabilities: $30,285.
--The number of civilian workers with disabilities who have jobs in sales: about 1 in 10.
--The number of people with disabilities earning $100,000 or more a year: 323,000, or 4 percent of all employed people with disabilities.
--The percentage of people without disabilities earning $100,000 or more a year: 8 percent.
--The number of people with disabilities who lack health insurance: 1 in 10.
--The percentage of women with disabilities: 20 percent.
--The percentage of men with disabilities: 17 percent.
--The number of people 15 and older with a hearing impairment: 7.6 million.
--The number of people 15 and older with a vision impairment: 8.1 million.
--The number of people 15 and older who have difficulty walking or climbing stairs: 30.6 million.
--The number of people 15 and older who use a wheelchair: 3.6 million.
--The number of people 15 and older with Alzheimer’s, senility or dementia: 2.4 million.
Dana Wilkie is an online editor/manager for SHRM.
SHRM’s Role in ADA Recalled 20 Years Later, July 2010, SHRM Online.