Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

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The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is the short title of United States Public Law 101-336, signed into law on July 26, 1990 by George H. W. Bush. It is a wide-ranging civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It affords similar protections against discrimination to Americans with disabilities as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Certain specific conditions are excluded, including alcoholism and transsexuality.



The Americans with Disabilities Act, commonly referred to as the ADA, consists of three introductory sections and five titles:

  • Introductory Sections
    • Table of Contents
    • Findings and Purposes
    • Definitions
  • Main Section
    • Title I - Employment
    • Title II - Public Services (and public transportation)
    • Title III - Public Accommodations
    • Title IV - Telecommunications
    • Title V


Inherent Flaws

Some complain that the ADA has made little progress in eliminating such discrimination because it is primarily complaint-driven. That is, individuals must make complaints of discrimination under the act to the person or agency charged with handling such complaints, only after which the agency may take action. Each title of the act created an agency to handle such complaints, ranging from bodies of the federal executive branch to local civil rights enforcement agencies. Further, individuals under each title have the "private right of action", that is, the right to privately sue the alleged discriminating person or body. Many of these lawsuits have helped to clarify provisions of the act by forcing courts to interpret the law for specific cases, creating a body of legal precedent.


Although it has greatly improved the quality of life for people with severe physical disabilities, the ADA has also been heavily criticized for being overinclusive in its reach. In turn, the ADA allegedly serves as a legal haven for malingerers and so-called "professional plaintiffs" who make a living out of suing noncompliant businesses and collecting monetary damages.

The ADA was the target of a vicious media backlash in mid-1997 after the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published its ADA guidelines in March. For example, The Onion satirized the ADA with an article about the passage of the "Americans with No Abilities Act," and The Simpsons ran an episode in which Homer Simpson tried to become grossly obese so he would be exempt under the ADA from a mandatory workplace fitness program.

The underlying debate is over whether the ADA should cover people with disabilities that are not totally and catastrophically disabling. Most people agree that a person with a severe physical disability like paraplegia should be accommodated. But they are less likely to agree when the disability in question is a mental illness, like depression, or consists of minor neck or back pain (see neuropathy). Others believe that accomodation laws put too many restrictions on the free market and should be repealed.

In general, the ADA is opposed by the following groups:

  • (1) political conservatives, who see the ADA as yet another inappropriate expansion of the federal government at the expense of states' rights;
  • (2) libertarians, who argue that the free market is better equipped to accommodate the disabled, and the taxation necessary to implement the ADA in government facilities is yet another unfair imposition upon free enterprise;
  • (3) small business owners and real property owners, who see the ADA as yet another federal unfunded mandate and yet another potential source of liability. Clint Eastwood falls into this last category and has become a prominent opponent of the ADA.

Political Support

The ADA is generally supported by the following groups:

  • Disabled people and their friends and relatives
  • Most people on the political Left, to the extent that the accommodation of the disabled does not severely influence causes they may value more (e.g., historic preservation or environmentalism)


  • Linda Hamilton Krieger, ed., Backlash Against the ADA: Reinterpreting Disability Rights (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2003).

See also

See Disability Discrimination Act for the corresponding UK legislation.

See Ontarians with Disabilities Act for the corresponding legislation in Ontario, Canada.

For cases determining the constitutionality of some of the ADA's provisions, see Tennessee v. Lane and Board of Trustees of the University of Alabama v. Garrett.

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