NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

When ADA Threatens Public Safety

February 22, 1999

Twin sisters are suing United Airlines in a Supreme Court case because they were not hired as pilots due to their near- sightedness. Their lawyers are basing their case on the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The case joins four others before the Supreme Court this term which could profoundly affect interpretation of the ADA statute. Did Congress design it to protect a relatively small group which suffered serious disabilities -- or those of the general populace whose minor disabilities could be easily corrected? Experts say the outcome will impact future public safety.

  • From 1992 to 1998, there were 108,939 complaints filled with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Back impairments were the disability most often cited -- involving 16.7 percent of cases.
  • These were followed by an emotional-psychiatric category at 13.7 percent; neurological, at 10.8 percent; and extremities disorders, 9.6 percent.
  • Other categories of complaints, all under 5 percent of cases, included heart, diabetes, substance abuse, hearing, blood disorders, vision, cancer and asthma.

About half the complaints filed with the (EEOC) were found to have no "reasonable cause" or grounds. Those that did go forward through EEOC proceedings garnered $211 million from employers to workers.

Source: Joan Biskupic, "Five Cases at Supreme Court Could Affect Disabilities Law," Washington Post, February 21, 1999.


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