Vanderbilt Law Review

Article Title

The Untold Story of the Rest of the Americans with Disabilities Act


The Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA")' can be described as the All-Star team of civil rights legislation. The framers of the ADA sought to create sweeping change in nearly every facet of the lives of people with disabilities. To achieve these ambitious goals, the framers assembled the best and brightest parts of other civil rights legislation: pieces of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Fair Housing Act. The end result was a comprehensive statute with three major parts: Title I, dealing with employment, Title II, dealing with public services, and Title III, dealing with public accommodations.

The All-Star analogy has obvious limits. All-Star teams are typically chosen by fans or coaches, who are able to select whomever they want. In contrast, the framers of the ADA had to make important sacrifices to achieve passage of the statute. And while All- Star teams usually only play together for a short period of time, the ADA has hung around a bit longer, celebrating its fifteenth birthday.

At this milestone, like spectators of All-Star games, nearly everyone has an opinion about the ADA's success. Most commentators, while acknowledging that the ADA has created some positive change, believe that its overall effects have been disappointing. A standard set of explanations has evolved in the literature for "what is wrong" with the ADA. These include the increasingly narrow way the courts (in particular, the Supreme Court) have interpreted the ADA, specifically, its definition of disability cases; the limits of antidiscrimination law in changing the broader problems faced by people with disabilities; and the limitations of the accommodation mandate. These competing explanations generate different proposals for ADA reform, including amending the ADA to overturn unpopular court decisions and a more aggressive return to social welfare policies. This Article challenges the assumption, taken nearly as a given until now, that these explanations apply equally to all Titles of the ADA.