fect “not just persons with disabilities and persons charged with respecting and enforcing human rights, but virtually every segment of our society—all Americans” (Gostin and Beyer, 1993. p. xiii).
Measuring the impact of a major civil rights statute is difficult (Donahue and Heckman, 1991). Impact depends upon the complex process of implementation by courts, enforcement agencies, and employers (Blumrosen, 1993; Edelman and Suchman, 1997). “Impact” can take a variety of forms, from increases in wages and employment rates to significant changes in social or organizational norms. The causal role of a civil rights statute is difficult to disaggregate from other social and economic factors, such as labor market conditions generally and government interventions on a number of interrelated fronts (Heckman, 1990). In the case of the ADA’s employment provisions, assessment is further complicated by differences between the population defined as disabled in data sources that monitor the employment and economic status of the U.S. population and the narrower group of people whose employment rights are actually protected by the law (Blanck et al., 2003; Burris and Moss, 2000; Kruse and Schur, 2003; Schwochau and Blanck, 2000).
The evidence suggests that the employment effects of the ADA have been, at best, mixed. Many studies find a decline in employment rates among the disabled, a decline which some have attributed to the ADA. Some find that the abysmally low wages of people with disabilities have not changed with the enactment of the ADA and may even have declined. Negative employer attitudes toward the disabled persist. The courts have interpreted the statute narrowly, and enforcement has been flawed. Yet there are also indications that the ADA has helped people with disabilities. Tens of thousands of individuals with disabilities have directly benefited by filing claims under the law. Organizations have adopted new employment practices and policies, and many people with disabilities have gained new leverage in pursuing their career goals. There is evidence that the segment of the disabled population actually protected by the employment provisions of the statute has seen an improvement in employment rates.
This paper summarizes what is known about the effects of the ADA’s employment rules. It reviews how the law has been operationalized and how the employment experiences of people with disabilities have changed since its passage. It begins with a brief overview of the ADA’s provisions. The next part reviews the evidence for three kinds of effects of the ADA: impact on wages and employment rates, changes in employer attitudes and practices, and the law’s empowering effect for people with disabilities. We then turn to a review of how the implementation of the law by courts and administrative agencies and countervailing social welfare policies complicate the assessment of the statute’s effectiveness.