The American Disability Act (ADA) has increased the probability that disabled workers can be included in the workforce. No longer can businesses choose to not hire a job applicant because of autism, past episodes of cancer, or any major or long-term factor that hinders any major life activity (eg: vision, learning, walking, etc.). The passing of this law essentially made it more difficult for companies to pass over candidates with health complications that obstruct these candidates from executing major life activities like most people without a disability.
Prior to the ADA, it was acceptable for people with the incredible potential to be overlooked. What if the NFL barred Tim Tebow from playing in the league because he was dyslexic? Then, the thousands of people who received medical care at the Tebow CURE hospital might not be alive today. Tim Tebow’s job in the NFL gave him the money necessary to create the Tim Tebow Foundation and ultimately the hospital in the Philippines. The ADA protected Tebow from discrimination based on a learning disability, allowing him to tap into his athletic potential, earn a sizeable salary, and create medical organizations to help improve the lives of thousands of people. Another example in popular culture of how the ADA has helped people with disabilities can be seen in the new drama on ABC dubbed The Good Doctor. Protagonist Shaun Murphy is an autistic surgeon. Despite Dr. Murphy’s social impairments, Dr. Murphy is a brilliant medical professional, able to diagnose medical complications in seconds. The amount of lives Dr. Murphy can improve through proper medical diagnosis is astronomical, and his boss does his best to properly accommodate to Dr. Murphy’s social needs for that reason. Prior to the ADA, Dr. Murphy could have been rejected from the hospital, as the director of the hospital has an obvious bias against Dr. Murphy. If a major television company can create a television drama that hinges on the ADA, then it must mean that this law has had an enormous impact on disabled workers in the workforce.
One specific improvement the ADA allowed for was that it gave people in wheelchairs the same opportunities for public transportation which can significantly better these people’s performance in the workplace. Prior to the ADA, people with severe motor deficiencies had to abandon their wheelchairs if they wanted to ride a bus or train. Now, imagine being in this situation: a skilled, independently acting professional who must be carried around like an infant because of a neuromuscular deficiency or a spinal injury. It would make a person hate oneself for something that is out of one’s control. I will bet that the proclivity to think negatively about oneself was probably extraordinarily high for disabled workers before the ADA existed. This negative thought pattern would logically decrease work productivity, (if the person with disabilities even had a job), increase negative affect, and plummet life satisfaction. With public transportation incorporating mechanisms to house wheelchaired individuals, this allows professionals to maintain a relatively normal social image, have a better self-confidence, and work more efficiently and passionately in the workplace.
The ADA is not only directly beneficial for people with disabilities, it is also indirectly beneficial because of how it helps businesses generate revenue. For instance, handicap accessible walkways and elevators not only allow physically handicapped individuals an easier means of navigation, but it also helps all types of people: people pushing strollers, people navigating a heavy cart, people who have chronic back pain, etc. The inclusivity of physically handicap accessible structures encourages more people to go to a certain place, such as a University or a theme park, and the increased attendance generates surplus revenue to cover the costs to create these structures. In other words, complying with the ADA positively impacts those who do not have a disability and those who experience the disability. Another example of this is the hiring of sign language interpreters. Since the 2008 financial crisis, United States citizens have been recovering from significant unemployment levels. Augmenting this, technology automation has also led to a decrease in available jobs. Thankfully, the need for sign language interpreters has not become automated, and the hiring of these individuals, although costly for a corporation or not-for-profit institution, pays dividends to the deaf community in the workforce. Actress Marlee Matlin, the only deaf actress to win the Best Actress in a Leading Role Academy Award, demonstrates the need to accommodate people with disabilities. Matlin’s success shows that some people with incredible talent need help to overcome their barriers so that they can share that potential with the world. Giving necessary resources to people with disabilities allows this to happen, and it not only benefits the people with disabilities, but it also benefits the community around those people, as thousands of people have enjoyed Matlin’s performance in Children of a Lesser God.
Prior to the ADA, a person with a disability could barely find a job, a place to eat, or a means to get to either a place to work or a place to dine. People with disabilities could not efficiently navigate the cities, and if they got to the place of interest, they would have to also overcome the social embarrassment associated with their disability. Now, people with disabilities have more opportunities. The ADA promises to enforce that all people with disabilities should have an equal chance of getting a job and achieving their goals in life. The ADA allows people with disabilities to have the same access to public facilities and transportation as everyone else, thereby giving these people a life that is relatively normal and full of potential. Granted, people with disabilities are still statistically more unemployed than their regularly functioning counterparts, and public transportation and facilities are still not completely handicap accessible, but progress has been made. People with disabilities have countless more opportunities today than they did before 1990, and the increase in national organizations that are fighting for the rights of people with disabilities is a promising sign that the importance of ADA will not fade as time passes.
Author: Joshua Klepes, from University of Rochester