The Americans With Disabilities Act: What the Legal Research Reveals About Trends and Unanticipated Applications of the Law

Barry Taylor, JD, Vice President for Civil Rights and Systematic Litigation, Equip for Equality, reviewed several major cases that have had a profound impact on the development of case law and policy since the ADA was passed in 1990. The first, and perhaps most far-reaching, was Sutton v. United Airlines (1999), in which two women sued under the ADA after United refused to hire them as pilots because of their vision. United claimed they were not covered by the ADA because they were not substantially limited in a major life activity when they wore their glasses.  The Supreme Court ruled in favor of United, saying that the effects of corrective measures must be taken into account when determining if the plaintiff had an ADA disability. This led to the dismissal of hundreds of ADA cases because plaintiffs weren’t considered as having a disability. To remedy the problems arising from the narrow court decisions that followed, Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) on September 30, 2008, which rejected the paradoxical definition of a qualifying disability and clarified the intention of the ADA to provide equal access for individuals with impairments, including episodic impairments like cancer. 

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