Ideas and Issues Personal Writings

Los Angeles Speaking of civil and equal rights, a column on Sunday in the Times by the Freakonomics duo, Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, on the unintended consequences of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), was disturbing and warrants results.

They made two points. One was that the employment of the disabled decreased after passage of the ADA which provided accommodations and assistance for the disabled at work, because of employer fear at the cost of hiring. The second point was the requirement that a doctor pay for requested (and therefore required) deaf interpretation at a medical exam even though it would not be reimbursed by the government or the insurer.

The second point is the easiest to address. Shame on both the government and the insurers for not making whole anyone so that adequate health care can be provided! This should not be a hard fix in the light of day.

The first point is harder, but also speaks to the failure of the government to in fact promote its own legislation and educate employers and the public about the real requirements of the ADA and their likely cost. It is tragic that the value of so many potential employees is lost. Where there is actual experience, there are different results. Rochester, New York and its huge deaf community and their widespread employment is an excellent case study of what happens when employers have real experiences and find that the reward is hard work and great employees.

One would think that the citizen’s burden of being differently able was enough weight to carry without having to also carry the way for the government and others who are looking the other way when they need to stand and be counted. This is a civil rights movement still waiting to happen.

Stephen Dubner
Steven Lewitt