The Americans with Disabilities Act Hurts the Disabled

While browsing through Cato, I read an article about the recent celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), and realized that such a law presents a unique opportunity for me. While I am libertarian and have many philosophical objections to this law, as a non-disabled soon-to-be college graduate, I am also a beneficiary of the ADA. While this may seem counter-intuitive at first, I’ll explain how this law enables someone like me to benefit at the expense of disabled individuals.

For starters, let’s look at things from the perspective of a business. The article points out that a string of lawsuits have been occurring all across the country against businesses for discriminating against disabled individuals, whether those individuals were job applicants or customers. While looking at individual cases, it may be emotionally appealing to feel that a deaf person was wronged for not having captions at a movie theatre or that a mentally retarded person was wronged to not be hired for a job which he thought he was qualified for. However, forcing businesses to cater to a group which they may or may not discriminate against is a sure way to guarantee that businesses will discriminate against that group.

Let’s look at incentives. With the ADA in place, businesses have a reason to be afraid of disabled individuals. After all, one wrong move and you could have a $400,000 fine like that rheumatologist in New Jersey for not providing a deaf patient with a free sign language interpreter. Businesses will find creative ways to discriminate against individuals which might pose a legal risk – even if those businesses would have never chosen to discriminate in the first place (prior to the possibility of a legal risk).

After all, fear of perceived punishment is all the incentive a business would need to discriminate with the ADA in place, while without the ADA only businesses with genuinely discriminatory actions would have a reason to discriminate. Businesses will see me on the other hand, and have nothing to fear. As a tall, healthy, Caucasian male in his 20s with a college degree, they will even cater to me as a result of this law. After all, if I take up the last job opening or the last seat in a restaurant, a business can more easily turn down a disabled individual without fear of the law. The ADA simply provides a huge disincentive for businesses have any contact with disabled individuals, and no amount of good intentions among liberals will change that.

So I’m left with two choices. I can stick to my commitment to liberty and argue that the ADA is fundamentally wrong, coercive, and harmful to its supposed beneficiaries (the disabled). Or, I can sit back and enjoy the additional perks to being a non-disabled person which the ADA has created. Ironically, if I chose to benefit myself at the expense of disabled people in this way, I will be thought of as caring for the disabled. If I try to help the disabled and argue against the ADA, I will be accused of hating disabled people.

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