On the 20th Anniversary of the Americans with Back Pain Act
Turn on any channel this week and you will likely stumble upon some obsequious tribute to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), on this, its 20th anniversary. The reliably lefty Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) is ubiquitous. Even wizened old Dick Thornburg, former Attorney General, was seen on C-SPAN yesterday soaking in the tributes from assorted groups in yet another weepy paean to the ADA.
It would seem dissonant, if not heretical, amidst this love fest to inject a note of realism, but here goes. Try this test: Ask anyone what they think of the ADA, what they think its purpose was/is, and who and what they think of when they think of its middle name, "disabilities." Almost everyone will imagine a person we consider disabled -- maybe wheelchair-bound, maybe blind, some other debilitating condition. But the reality of the ADA is quite different.
According to these numbers from the EEOC, the undisputed winner by a mile in "charges received" under the ADA (it's the same with "charges settled"), is (drum roll please...), back injuries. In second place we have the curiously-named, "Non-paralytic orthopedic impairment," defined here as "chronic pain, stiffness or weakness in bones or joints...". But fear not - in a close third place we have "depression."
None of this, of course, is to say that back injuries, non-paralytic orthopedic impairments and depression are not serious conditions. But none of that was really the point of the ADA, was it? When President Bush signed this bill, when Tom Harkin introduced the bill, were they accompanied by people with back injuries or who were depressed? Not a chance. The photo ops always include people who are, well, disabled, i.e., the people the Act was intended to benefit.
Lost among all the back injuries and depression, of course, are the interests of the disabled. Every specious claim under ADA cheapens their daily struggles. Here's an idea: While we're busy celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ADA, maybe we should also take time out to remember the people the Act was intended to cover and the many daunting challenges they face.