Equality of Opportunity: The Making of the Americans with Disabilities Act

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JULY 26, 1997
JULY 26, 2010

In commemoration of the
20th anniversary of the ADA

The Making of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Copyright © 1997, 2010 by the National Council on Disability


Publication date: July 26, 1997
National Council on Disability
1331 F Street, N.W.
Suite 1050
Washington, D.C. 20004-1107

(202) 272-2004 Voice
(202) 272-2074 TTY
(202) 272-2022 Fax

This work was prepared under contract with the National Rehabilitation Hospital Research Center, Medlantic Research Institute, and was written by Jonathan M. Young.

The views contained in this report do not necessarily represent those of the Administration, as this document has not been subjected to the A-19 Executive Branch review process.


For people with disabilities throughout the nation whose pursuit of liberty and justice made the ADA a reality.

For those who have since passed away.

For those who join the cause of disability rights.


Linda W. Allison
Glenn Anderson, Ph.D., Second Vice Chairperson
Yerker Andersson, Ph.D.
Milton Aponte, J.D.
Gary Blumenthal
Ellis B. Bodron
H. Latham Breunig, Ph.D.
Marca Bristo, Chairperson
Dave N. Brown
Larry Brown, Jr.
Robert V. Bush
Victoria Ray Carlson
Chad Colley, Vice Chairperson
Mary Ann Mobley Collins
Edward Correia
Justin Dart, Jr., Vice Chairperson
Robert R. Davila, Ph.D.
Joe S. Dusenbury, Chairperson
John S. Erthein
Chester A. Finn
Anthony H. Flack
Lex Frieden, Chairperson
John A. Gannon, Acting Chairperson
Theresa L. Gardner
Sara Gelser
Barbara Gillcrist
R. Budd Gould
Margaret C. Hager
Hunt Hamill, Vice Chairperson
Graham Hill
Marylyn Howe
Joel I. Kahn, Ph.D.
Young Woo Kang, Ph.D.
John D. Kemp
Marian N. Koonce
Carmine Lavieri
Leslie Lenkowsky, Ph.D.
John Leopold
Nanette Fabray MacDougall
Michael Marge, Ed.D.
Kathleen Martinez
Lisa Mattheiss
Heather McCallum
Katherine O. McCary
Audrey McCrimon
Gina McDonald
Lonnie Moore
Robert S. Muller
Carol Novak
George H. Oberle, P.E.D.
Bonnie O'Day, Ph.D.
Dongwoo Joseph "Joe" Pak
Patricia Pound, Vice Chairperson
Brenda Premo
Anne M. Rader
Mary M. Raether
Lilliam Rangel-Diaz
Carol Reynolds
Debra L. Robinson
Marco Rodriguez
Shirley W. Ryan
Gerald S. Segal
Ann C. Seggerman
Harry J. Sutcliffe, D.D.
Joni Eareckson Tada
Fernando Torres-Gil, Ph.D., Vice Chair
Michael B. Unhjem
Rae Unzicker
John R. Vaughn, Chairperson
Roxanne S. Vierra
Henry Viscardi, Jr.
Cynthia Wainscott
Kent Waldrep, Jr., Vice Chairperson
Hughey Walker, Vice Chairperson
Helen W. Walsh
David Wenzel
Linda Wetters, Vice Chair
Tony Williams
Kate P. Wolters, Vice Chairperson
Ela Yazzie-King
Jonathan M. Young, Ph.D., J.D., Chairman
Phyllis Zlotnick


Andrew I. Batavia, Executive Director
Frederick D. Bedell, Acting Executive Director
Betty Jo Berland, Research Specialist (on detail)
Kathleen A. Blank, Program Specialist
Brenda Bratton, Executive Assistant
Ethel D. Briggs, Executive Director
Stacey S. Brown, Staff Assistant
Robert Burgdorf, Jr., Research Specialist
Edward P. Burke, Acting Executive Director
Christopher Button, Special Assistant (on detail)
Julie Carroll, Senior Attorney Advisor
Michael C. Collins, Executive Director
Frances D. Curtis, Administrative Officer
Speed Davis, Acting Executive Director
John A. Doyle, Acting Executive Director
Joan M. Durocher, Executive Director
Andrea H. Farbman, Public Affairs Specialist
Lex Frieden, Executive Director
Marilynne Gisin, Executive Assistant
Martin Gould, Ed.D., Director of Research and Technology
Sharon M. Lisa Grubb, Coordinator of Administration
Geraldine Drake Hawkins, Ph.D., Senior Program Analyst
Paul G. Hearne, Executive Director
Harvey S. Hirschi, Executive Director
Allan W. Holland, Accountant
Andrew J. Imparato, General Counsel and Director of Policy
Kathleen Roy Johnson, Children's Specialist
Naomi Karp, Children's Services Specialist (on detail)
Lois T. Keck, Ph.D., Research Specialist
Billie Jean Keith, Program Specialist
Fred Krause, Special Assistant to the Chairperson (on detail)
Pat Laird, Staff Assistant
Ramona Lessen, Executive Assistant
Janice Mack, Administrative Officer
Jamal Mazrui, Program Specialist
Carla Nelson, Administrative Specialist
Pamela O'Leary, Interpreter
Mark S. Quigley, Director of Communications
Jeffrey T. Rosen, General Counsel and Director of Policy
Katherine Seelman, Ph.D., Research Specialist
Moira Shea, Senior Legislative and Economic Advisor (on detail)
Anne C. Sommers, Legislative Affairs Specialist
Harold W. Snider, Deputy Director
Norman Subotnik, Special Assistant (on detail)
Deborah Shuck, Staff Assistant
Joyce Turner, Secretary
B. E. Villanueva, Administrative Officer
Lorraine Williams, Student Assistant


The National Council on Disability (NCD) is indebted to the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH) Research Center for this historical account. Jonathan M. Young, a Ph.D. candidate in American history at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Project Director for the NRH Research Center, conducted in-depth research, interviewed many key participants in the ADA's passage, and authored the manuscript. Gerben DeJong, Ph.D., Director of the NRH Research Center, provided overall guidance and advice in addition to reviewing the document. With the support of Dr. DeJong and Karen Behe, Ruth Brannon initiated this project for the NRH Research Center, conducted oral interviews, and collected many documents, which culminated in the development of an annotated outline in 1995. Between 1990 and 1992, prior contractors, including Alexander Vachon, began work on a history of the ADA, conducted selected interviews, and collected materials for NCD, portions of which were made available for this project.

The Civil Rights Committee of the National Council on Disability coordinated the development of this project: John Kemp, Chairman; Hughey Walker, Vice-chairman; Lilliam Rangel Pollo; Rae Unzicker; Marca Bristo, ex officio; and Kate Pew Wolters, ex officio. NCD Chairperson Marca Bristo reviewed multiple iterations of the manuscript and contributed significantly to its development. Billie Jean Keith was the NCD staff person to the Civil Rights Committee and followed the manuscript from beginning to end. Mark Quigley, NCD Public Affairs Specialist, coordinated publication of the manuscript.

Staff at the NRH Research Center assisted in the general development of the project. Special recognition goes to Rachel Halpern and Ben Wheatley, who helped edit the manuscript, as well as to Phillip Beatty, Olga Elizabeth Hayes, Barbara Maloney-Darbeau, Lee Ann McNnerey, Georgette LaFayette Smith, and Sabrina Smith. Kathy Butler and Antonio de Guzman, at the NRH Research Center Library, were invaluable resources for research. In addition, George Koch provided important access to the law library of his firm, Kirkpatrick & Lockhart. Staff at the House and Senate Libraries and Parliamentarian's offices were indispensable sources of information. Frank Young, Leanne Young, and Bob Atwood provided essential editorial assistance. Personal interviews were transcribed by Ann Rand of Medical Dictation Services, Inc. Mary Flannery designed the cover.

Numerous individuals provided invaluable feedback on the complete manuscript or parts of it: Yerker Andersson, Ruth Brannon, Maria Cuprill, Lex Frieden, Paul Hearne, Mark Johnson, Evan Kemp, Chris Lord, Marla Miller, Phyllis Rubenfeld, Liz Savage, Melissa Schulman, Robert Silverstein, Roger Slagle, Roland Sykes, and Pat Wright. The manuscript is stronger and more accurate because of their comments.

Special thanks go to the 54 individuals who gave their time and insight in personal and correspondence interviews as sources for this historical account: they are listed in Appendix A. Many of these interviewees also provided access to their personal papers and made themselves available for follow-up fact-checking. Without them this history would have been impossible.