Robert J. Samuelson believes that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has expanded the legal definition of "disability" and that this could result in more people obtaining Social Security disability benefits -- rather than obtaining jobs, the main intent of the law [op-ed, June 30].
The ADA and the Social Security Act define "disability" in different ways. The Social Security Act uses a narrow definition, because the basic purpose of the Social Security law is to provide benefits to people who are so disabled they can't work. The ADA has a different purpose, to protect people from discrimination, and you don't have to be very disabled to experience discrimination. In fact, plenty of employers have treated people unfairly because of minor conditions.
Under the recent Supreme Court decision in the Sutton case, a person can be fired from a job because the employer finds out he or she has epilepsy, for example, and yet if that person were taking medication to control the epilepsy, he or she would be barred from fighting back using the ADA. Furthermore, a person with epilepsy that is controlled with medication would not fit the Social Security definition of disability, which means this person has neither law to fall back on.
-- Deborah Kaplan
The writer is executive director of World Institute on Disability in Oakland, Calif.
As a fellow journalist, I was disappointed by Robert Samuelson's treatment of disability issues. By placing the responsibility for the high unemployment rate among people with disabilities on the backs of those individuals, he insults not only those he would label as "seriously disabled" but all Americans.
Many people with disabilities say they want to work but can't do so for a variety of reasons -- lower-than-average wages, lack of access to health care, attitudes of coworkers and employers that fail to offer equal opportunity.
Samuelson obscures the ADA's key goal. The ADA is a civil rights law. As such, it does not need to define disability -- and it shields all people against discrimination.
When faced with discrimination, all people's problems are serious, whatever their level of ability. We must promote change in the attitudes and environments that foster this discrimination. The ADA can only be as good as the people it protects.
-- William Stothers