Ragged Edge online


The long & sorry history of discrimination against people with disabilities in the United States -- and its likely causes

Sept./Oct. 2000         

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Alabama's claim that "in passing the ADA, Congress did not identify any pattern or practice of unconstitutional state action, or for that matter even cite a single instance of such conduct," . . .

is simply wrong. Congress found that our society "is still infected by the ancient, now almost subconscious assumption that people with disabilities are less than fully human and therefore are not fully eligible for the opportunities, services, and support systems which are available to other people as a matter of right. The result is massive, society-wide discrimination."
              From the Historians' brief to the Supreme Court


Alabama says . . .
Congress did not show, or even try to show, that the states have previously violated the constitutional rights of the disabled.
              From Alabama's brief
The Congress that enacted the Disabilities Act brought to that legislative process more than 40 years of experience studying the scope and nature of discrimination against persons with disabilities and testing incremental legislative steps to combat that discrimination. .... It "commissioned two reports from the National Council on the Handicapped, an independent federal agency, to report on the adequacy of existing federal laws and programs addressing discrimination against persons with disabilities." . . .

One of those reports, "On The Threshold Of Independence," concluded that "the most pervasive and recurrent problem faced by disabled persons appeared to be unfair and unnecessary discrimination."

....Congress itself engaged in extensive study and fact-finding concerning the problem of discrimination against persons with disabilities, . . . . holding 13 hearings devoted specifically to the consideration of the Disabilities Act. . . .

A congresssionally- designated Task Force held 63 public forums across the country, which were attended by more than 7,000 individuals. . . . The Task Force presented to Congress evidence submitted by nearly 5,000 individuals documenting the problems with discrimination faced daily by persons with disabilities -- often at the hands of state and local governments. . . . evidencing "massive discrimination and segregation in all aspects of life" and "the most extreme isolation, unemployment, poverty, psychological abuse and physical deprivation experienced by any segment of our society," according to the Legislative History. Those documents -- mostly handwritten letters and commentary collected during the Task Force's forums -- were part of the official legislative history of the Disabilities Act.

. . . Congress found, after exhaustive investigation, ample evidence of a long history and a continuing problem of unconstitutional treatment of persons with disabilities by states and their subdivisions . . .
              From the Brief to the U.S. Supreme Court by the Solicitor General


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The light-colored type running down the edge is a listing of the hundreds of state statutes, session laws, and constitutional provisions that illustrate pervasive state-sponsored discrimination against persons with disabilities, dating from the late nineteenth century through the time of the ADA's enactment and (in some cases) to the present. To read this list, click here.

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