Mind Matters: Mental Disability and the History and Future of the Americans with Disabilities Act
Concannon, James, Law and Psychology Review
This Article examines the history of protections afforded individuals alleging mental disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the protections such individuals will receive under the ADA going forward in light of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which substantially amended the ADA. The Article specifically focuses on Title I of the ADA, which governs discrimination in employment against individuals with disabilities. While the Article concludes that it is reasonable to suspect that coverage for potential Title I ADA plaintiffs alleging mental disabilities will be broader post-Amendments Act, it also finds that it is unclear whether individuals with such disabilities will experience the same increase in coverage as those alleging physical disabilities will likely enjoy. This potential divergence stems from the lack of amendment of particular provisions of the Act that have disproportionately disqualified individuals with mental impairments from coverage, and from the continuing stigma attached to mental disabilities.
This paper discusses the history and substance of the original Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), (1) the motivations for the passage of the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 ("ADAAA"), (2) the substantive changes effected by ADAAA, and the history and future of coverage for individuals asserting mental disabilities under the original ADA and the post-Amendments Act ADA. Although generally applicable provisions of the ADA are discussed throughout, this paper specifically focuses on Title I of the ADA, which governs discrimination in employment. (3)
Part I of this paper considers the origins of the ADA and the inclusion of mental disabilities under the Act as well as important provisions and definitions within the original Act that have given many courts pause. Part II covers the events surrounding the passage of the ADAAA and the major changes to the ADA effected by the amendments. Part III concerns the successes and failures of plaintiffs alleging mental disabilities under the pre-Amendments Act, barriers faced by such plaintiffs under the original ADA, the potential impact of the ADAAA on plaintiffs alleging mental disability, and remaining issues for individuals alleging such discrimination in a post-Amendments Act legal landscape.
I. AN INTRODUCTION TO THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
A. Origins of the ADA and Mental Health Coverage
On July 26, 1990, after years of effort from disability rights advocates and their allies, President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law. The passage of the ADA came a long and frustrating seventeen years after the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, [section] 504 of which banned discrimination against individuals on the basis of disability by recipients of federal funds. (4) Section 504 was modeled on civil rights laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination based on "race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." (5) For the first time in the United States, the law viewed the exclusion, segregation, and mistreatment of individuals with disabilities as discrimination, rather than as an ineluctable consequence of the impairments the disabilities themselves had on those who possessed them.
The definition of disability found in the Rehabilitation Act, and subsequently adopted in a slightly modified form by the ADA, was not limited to those with physical disabilities. Instead, the original version of the Rehabilitation Act provided that "[t]he term 'handicapped individual' means any ... person who (A) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities, (B) has a record of such an impairment, or (C) is regarded as having such an impairment." (6) Thus, individuals with mental disabilities were placed into the same protected "class" as individuals with limiting physical impairments. …