The Ada And Beyond

The labor market provisions of the ADA comprise a small part of the overall goals of the legislation. Furthermore, given the relatively low proportion of the disabled population that is actually in the labor force, and smaller yet that is employed, the potential impact of these provisions is not nearly as widespread as the effect of other elements of the legislation that cover aspects of a disabled person's life outside the labor market. As such, measuring the influence of the ADA on the overall quality of life of the disabled goes far beyond the potential impact on the labor market experience. Indeed, the key contributions of the ADA may be beyond quantification in economic terms; it is difficult to put a price on the dignity and respect that proponents might argue are among the most important dividends of the ADA.

Nevertheless, learning that the ADA did not result in dramatic, or even notable, improvement across multiple dimensions of the labor market experience of the disabled must be quite disappointing for the proponents of the legislation. In light of these findings, we are left with the question of why no such impact was forthcoming. One possible reason for legislation not having an effect on the intended beneficiaries is that there was nothing to improve: the disadvantaged are not really as disadvantaged as they might appear (because of factors the researcher may not be able to observe, for example). If this is the case, then the ADA is directed at a nonexistent target. A second possibility for finding no influence of the ADA on labor market outcomes among the disabled might be that the labor market provisions of the legislation are focused on the wrong things. Title I of the ADA is couched in terms of eliminating discriminatory behavior on the part of employers. It could be the case that discrimination is not the culprit determining inferior labor market outcomes for the disabled; in other words, the ADA is aiming at the wrong target. A third potential explanation for finding no impact is that the ADA is focused on the right target, but just missed. In other words, it may be the case that the legislation is ineffective, that employers are finding ways to get around the provisions and that workers are not able to exercise their rights under the law.

With the amount of evidence presented in this book, as well as that provided elsewhere, it is not likely that the ADA is aiming at a nonexistent target. One advantage of examining labor market outcomes from multiple dimensions, as was done here, is to be able to rule out numerous explanations for inferior labor market outcomes. The disabled clearly have further to go before enjoying labor market outcomes comparable to those experienced by the nondisabled. The possibility that the ADA has missed the target and that employers are able to somehow get around complying with the legislation is also not likely. The inabil ity of employers to ignore the ADA is evidenced by the fact that disability claims made up 20 percent of all claims made to the EEOC during fiscal year 2001. This percentage was not too far behind the ratio of claims filed based on race (36 percent), sex (31 percent), and age (22 percent) during the same year and suggests that workers are aware of their rights and are holding employers accountable. The chance, then, that the ADA is aiming at the wrong target is still a possibility. While individual cases of discrimination (as evidenced by the number of EEOC claims) indicate that discrimination against disabled workers is likely occurring in the labor market, it still may not be the overwhelming determinant of inferior labor market outcomes. As suggested earlier in this chapter, other policies, such as promoting education and training, may go further toward improving labor market outcomes than a policy outlawing discrimination (which may only touch a small portion of the disabled).

Regardless of why the ADA does not seem to have affected the labor market experience of the disabled, this absence of impact begs the question of whether the ADA is necessary. Clearly, it is possible to argue the merits of the ADA on the ways in which it has likely improved the quality of life among the disabled beyond its labor market or quantifiable influence. However, even with regard to its labor market provisions, the ADA does serve as a statement of our social values, and it provides a legal mechanism with which to stem the activities of those who have not yet accepted those values. In addition, there is no question that it does serve to set the stage and to provide a labor market environment in which effective reforms, more narrowly focused on the needs of the disabled for improving outcomes, can be introduced.

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