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The Purpose of the ADA

The purpose of the ADA is "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities ... the Nation's proper goals regarding individuals with disabilities are to assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for such individuals." The ADA also is intended to reduce federal payments for social security income and other federal tax-funded disability programs.

The Justice Department and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's final rules on the hiring and retention of disabled employees went into effect in July 1992 for workplaces with more 25 or more employees; they will apply in July 1994 for workplaces with fewer than 25 but more than 14 employees. Both employer organizations and groups representing disabled individuals had substantial input into the final rules. Consistent with the restrictions of the original legislation, these rules represent an attempt to balance the needs of employers and disabled individuals.

The employment provisions of the ADA mirror the requirements of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The ADA covers more employers, however, because section 504 was limited to employers who did business with the government. While these included most large employers--universities, medical institutions, and governmental entities themselves--many small businesses were exempt. The major difference between section 504 and the ADA is the ADA's underlying presumption that there is widespread and systematic workplace discrimination against disabled individuals.

Section 504 was a remedial statute that provided standards to judge whether a given individual was the victim of discrimination. It allowed employers to use medical examinations and inquiries to determine the status of a potential or current employee's medical condition, including disabilities. The ADA presumes that employers will discriminate against disabled individuals. It seeks to prevent discrimination by limiting the employer's access to information, as well as providing legal remedies for victims of discrimination. It is this shift from nondiscrimination to noninquiry into disability that changes traditional occupational medicine practice.

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