The Americans with Disabilities Act at 25

My conversation with University of Michigan Law Professor Sam Bagenstos. From 2009 to 2011, he was a political appointee in the U.S. Department of Justice, where he served as the principal deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights, where he headed Obama administration’s disability enforcement efforts.

We had a great conversation about the often-unsung heroes of the disability rights movement, why Jerry Lewis isn’t one of these heroes, why smartphones don’t have to accessible to people with vision or hearing disorders, what ADA accomplished and failed to accomplish in America.

It was great to do this bloggingheads via Skype. We could actually see and interact with each other.


Author: Harold Pollack

Harold Pollack is Helen Ross Professor of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. He has served on three expert committees of the National Academies of Science. His recent research appears in such journals as Addiction, Journal of the American Medical Association, and American Journal of Public Health. He writes regularly on HIV prevention, crime and drug policy, health reform, and disability policy for American Prospect,, and other news outlets. His essay, "Lessons from an Emergency Room Nightmare" was selected for the collection The Best American Medical Writing, 2009. He recently participated, with zero critical acclaim, in the University of Chicago's annual Latke-Hamentaschen debate.

2 thoughts on “The Americans with Disabilities Act at 25”

  1. Samuel Bagenstoss thinks that the USA is ahead of other advanced countries in terms of physical access, and Keith Humphreys has commented to the same effect on another post – though better public transport, even with incomplete access, must balance this in part. But Harold and Samuel see the labour market as a relative failure of ADA. How do Europe and Japan compare here? More protected labour markets raise the cost of hiring, so prima facie that could become an obstacle to disabled job-seekers. But they also raise the cost of firing, and in general promote longer-term employment relationships. Some employers discover than once they have made the effort to adapt jobs to workers with disabilities, the employees that take them are exceptionally loyal and stable. Also, health care is more or less decoupled from employment, even in countries with a social insurance model, so the fear of loss of benefits is absent or vestigial. Is there any comparative data here?

    Anecdote: I've been told, by a person with personal knowledge, that the Mathematical Institute in Cambridge (England) is the best building in the university for wheelchair access. (The Middle Ages weren't strong on this.) The reason is Stephen Hawking. Of all the academic stars in the university, he's the least likely to be hired away.

    Technical niggle: the contrast in the quality of the two Skype images is striking. It's not just a question of the colour settings but also of resolution. I advise Harold to change his webcam. A top-line one goes for around $100.

    1. At the time the ADA was passed, about 51% of the disabled were employed. It's about 32% now.

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