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The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") in 1990 has been praised as the major accomplishment of the disability rights movement. This statute, however, is not without its flaws. Perhaps the most problematic one is the way in which “disability” is defined. Lisa Eichhorn argues that the definition undercuts the effectiveness of the ADA. She begins with a historical look at society’s concepts of disability and discusses how these concepts were incorporated into the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the ADA. She then examines cases that have been dismissed because plaintiffs cannot prove disabled status, which illustrate the problems with the disability definition. The Supreme Court has not provided lower courts with much guidance in this area, as demonstrated by the recent case of Bragdon v. Abbott. Ms. Eichhorn, however, offers relief for courts struggling with the definition: amend the disability definition so it represents more accurately the goals not only of the Act’s drafters but also of disability rights activists.


Reprinted with permission from the North Carolina Law Review Volume 77 (1999).