The excitement, fear, and general controversy surrounding the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 might lead some to believe that this was the first time the United States had ever confronted the issue of potential discrimination against or differential treatment of people with disabilities. To the contrary, the nation has demonstrated some concern through legislation for individuals with disabilities since the 1920s. Not until the ADA, however, was there as sweeping a mandate, theoretically touching multiple dimensions of a disabled person's life.
The National Civilian Vocational Rehabilitation Act became law in 1920, was amended several times, then became the Vocational Rehabilitation Act in 1954. Public Law 93-112 transformed it into the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (sections 503—504), which prohibits discrimination against the disabled by any program receiving federal assistance and requires federal agencies to take affirmative action to employ handicapped individuals. In addition, the act dictates that companies having contracts of a certain size with the federal government ($10,000 or more, as of 1998) publicly state that the organization takes affirmative action to employ and accommodate workers with disabilities. Executive Order 12086 in 1978 reassigned enforcement of the act to the U.S. Department of Labor. This strengthened the position of disabled and veteran workers by placing the regulation enforcement in line with protection from discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 1 So, while nondiscrimination against and employment of disabled workers have been of concern for firms doing business with the federal government for some time, it was not until the passage of the ADA that all firms in the United States (employing 15 or more people) would be held to the same standard regarding employment and accommodation of individuals with disabilities.
In many ways individual states have taken the lead in providing workplace opportunities for the disabled. By 1990, all states had