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Toward Independence and the Vision of an ADA - Part 4

Kent Waldrep and the Name “Americans with Disabilities Act”

Prior to the June 13-14 drafting sessions, I had produced a fairly substantial draft of the EOL paper, which was well-received by Council members and other attendees. After that meeting, on June 18, 1985, Council member Kent Waldrep gave me a short memorandum he had written. President Reagan had named Kent to the National Council in 1982. In 1974, he had been the starting tailback for the Texas Christian University football team, and suffered a crushed cervical vertebra, resulting in paralysis, when he was tackled on a running play in a game against the Alabama Crimson Tide. A wheelchair user since his accident, Kent became passionately interested in spinal cord injury research, organized what became the American Paralysis Association, and later founded the Kent Waldrep National Paralysis Foundation. The subject line of his memo to me read “Effective and Comprehensive Equal Opportunity Laws” the title of the EOL paper draft. It began, “Your working draft was excellent and I have only a few suggestions.” One of them asked for a chart of all the definitions of disability used by federal agencies. The more significant one was the following: “That all new legislation be packaged under one title such as ‘The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1986.’ In this way, I feel the recommended legislative changes can be marketed much more effectively.” In his simple memorandum, Kent coined the name of the historic federal law that the Council’s report would engender. By the time I produced another iteration of the recommendation in July, I had followed up on Kent’s idea and inserted that “the new law should be packaged as a single comprehensive bill, perhaps under such a title as ‘The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1986.’”

Suggesting a name for a bill the Council hoped the Congress would develop and enact did not resolve a basic question raised in all legislation – should it be amendatory or freestanding? An “amendatory” bill is, as the term suggests, one which amends a law already on the books. A “freestanding” bill is one that does not revise or add to an existing statute, but stands independently on its own. Amendatory pieces of legislation adding new sections to existing laws can be designated with, and referred to by, their own names, so calling the bill the “Americans with Disabilities Act” would not settle the freestanding-or-separate issue. In the July 1985 version of the recommendation, I described what I thought were the most plausible alternatives, as follows:

Such a statute could take one of several forms: It could be drafted as an amendment adding a new title to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It could be a separate new statute, standing alone. Or it might be written as an amendment adding additional, permanent provisions to the Title V of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

At the time, I leaned toward amending the Rehabilitation Act, largely because that was where the existing disability nondiscrimination provisions, Sections 504, 503, and 501, had been placed. I suggested that amending Title V of the Rehabilitation Act “appears to be the most practicable and clearest of the alternatives” – a view I would later reconsider.

By the time of the Council’s meeting on August 12-14, 1985, I had prepared a full draft of the EOL topic paper. In 57 pages, it presented 11 legislative recommendations and a rationale as to why each was needed, including major sections discussing problems with existing disability nondiscrimination law in terms of the scope of their coverage and their language, interpretation, and enforcement. At this time, the other topic papers were at various stages of completion, but we sought to have draft recommendations ready for the Council’s preliminary review at the August meeting. Lex asked me to edit the other papers, to whatever extent the substance and quality of writing called for it. Apart from light general editing, my main target was to review the legislative recommendations, both from a legal adequacy perspective and to make them structurally and stylistically consistent across the various papers. Ethel Briggs, the Adult Services Specialist, was in charge of the mostly thankless task of coordinating the completion of the various topic papers and assembling them for the Appendix.

Continue on to Part 5: Shaping the Summary 1986 Report; Who Would Write It? and the Themes of Fiscal Restraint and Cost/Benefit Analysis

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