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Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Americans with Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, passed during the first Bush administration, is intended to eliminate, or at least minimize, discrimination against the disabled. Trumpeted as equal rights for the disabled, it gives people the right to sue if they can show that someone has discriminated against them because of their disability, in the areas of employment and in access to facilities.

Supporters of the ADA claim that it is a violation of a person’s civil rights to be discriminated against. I disagree. My view is that discrimination is a violation of civil rights only when government is doing the discriminating. However, an individual or a business has the right to discriminate, because freedom of association is a basic human right, whereas freedom from discrimination is not.

I concede that discrimination against the disabled can be senseless and bigoted. But a government social engineering program based on coercion is not the answer. Not only does it expand government authority in a dangerous way, but it is actually making the situation worse. For example, the ADA has hurt employment of the disabled by increasing litigation risk associated with hiring the disabled.

The proper way to reduce discrimination against the disabled is through education, persuasion, and social pressure. We will always have some discrimination, which is quite appropriate; after all, blind people can’t be airline pilots. The real question is – who should decide when discrimination is or is not appropriate? Should it be a free people, or should it be the government?

Government must grant equal rights to all, but special privilege to none. When ADA is used to give the disabled access to government services, it is defending their right to equal protection under the law. However, when ADA is directed against the private sector, it being used to grant special privilege.

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