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U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission



A Message from the Chair

Post from Chair Jenny R. Yang - July 2015

The Americans with Disabilities Act at 25

On July 26, 2015, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) turned 25. Not long after the ADA went into effect, I began working at the Department of Justice's Disability Rights Section. I had the privilege of working as a paralegal on the first ADA case the department filed. That case ensured that deaf students have the right to appropriate aids, including sign-language interpreters, to help them prepare for the test to become a certified public accountant and launch their careers.

Work changes lives. We know that innately, and it's especially true for people with disabilities. The goal of the ADA, and all of our workplace civil rights laws, is to assure each of us the chance to do the work we want to do, free from discrimination.

For a quarter century now, Title I of the act has provided legal protections from employment discrimination for individuals with disabilities. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) began enforcing those protections in 1992, when Title I took effect, and we remain vigilant on behalf of workers of all abilities today.

We have come a long way in the past 25 years. We have advanced the law, issued regulations, and promoted policies that shifted societal expectations for people with disabilities. Today, young people with disabilities, the "ADA generation," have greater access to education, employment, and the full spectrum of American society. Yet much work lies ahead to fulfill the promise of the ADA in the workplace.

We continue to see substantial barriers to equal employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities, including asking prohibited disability-related questions of job applicants and employees and refusing to hire or promote applicants and employees based on stereotypes about their disabilities. Still today, we find egregious examples of abuse of workers with disabilities.
In 2013, EEOC took Hill Country Farms (operating as Henry's Turkey Service) to court to stop the years of abuse, substandard living conditions, harassment, and unequal pay that 32 men with intellectual disabilities suffered in their workplace. The jury awarded them the largest verdict in the agency's history-$240 million.

Last year, EEOC received more than 25,000 charges of disability discrimination. We obtained relief for 4,500 charging parties through our administrative process alone, and that doesn't include people we helped through mediation prior to an investigation or those who will be helped in the future through important policy changes. We collected approximately $96 million for the victims of discrimination without needing to file suit. We also filed 49 lawsuits to stop disability discrimination.

Currently, cases with ADA claims make up about one-third of our litigation docket. Just last month, EEOC settled a lawsuit against United Airlines that strengthens protections for workers with disabilities. As a result of the case, the company will revise policies affecting its employees with disabilities nationwide and report to EEOC on the status of employees with disabilities who were denied vacant positions for which they were qualified. The company also will pay $1 million to those former employees who faced discrimination.

Along with our enforcement work, we recognize that education and outreach is critical to preventing disability discrimination. Last year, we engaged more than 60,000 people in conversations about reducing barriers to hiring people with disabilities, considering an individual's qualifications for the job instead of stereotypes about disabilities, and providing accommodations where needed for qualified workers. Over the past two decades, we've prepared almost 50 detailed explanations (in the forms of guidance and technical assistance) of various aspects of the ADA to assist employers and workers.

Behind all of these efforts at EEOC is a drive to ensure that people with disabilities can get, retain, and advance in jobs that give them economic freedom and independence. Many employers see the advantage of these goals as well. They recognize individuals with disabilities as valuable contributors who add to their bottom line.

Going forward, EEOC has made it a strategic enforcement priority to continue developing legal protections under the ADA. In addition, we plan to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to ensure the federal government is a model employer for people with disabilities under the Rehabilitation Act. We also have updated five brochures on the "ABCs of Schedule A," to help increase the number of people with disabilities hired by the federal government.

You can learn more about the ADA, its history, and the ADA resources available through EEOC on our website at www.eeoc.gov. We'll be adding to the "ADA at 25" pages periodically throughout this 25th anniversary year, so come back from time to time.

This post from Chair Jenny R. Yang is the seventh in a series of messages highlighting the EEOC's work