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Profile: Walter Olson

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Walter Olson was a participant or observer in the following events:

Fox Business Channel host and commentator John Stossel writes a column for NewsMax attacking the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA—see July 26, 1990), claiming that the legislation places an undue burden of compliance on businesses. (Stossel 9/1/2010) The ADA was sponsored by Congressional Democrats and signed into law by then-President George H. W. Bush. The ADA “prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities.” Recently, it has been attacked by conservative pundits and candidates, largely because businesses have to spend money to comply with the act’s mandates. (Media Matters 9/7/2010; US Department of Labor 2011) Stossel makes some dubious claims, such as describing a restaurant having to allow a customer to bring in a “large snake” as a “service animal,” and saying huge lawsuits are being filed because mirrors are placed one inch too low or too high. Stossel calls the ADA “well-intentioned” and “popular with Republicans and Democrats,” but cites a study purporting to show that employment of the disabled actually decreased after the ADA went into effect, and explains that this occurred because “the law turns ‘protected’ people into potential lawsuits. Most ADA litigation occurs when an employee is fired, so the safest way to avoid those costs is not to hire the disabled in the first place.” Stossel cites Walter Olson of the conservative/libertarian Cato Institute as calling the ADA “unnecessary,” and, using Olson’s rationale, writes: “Under the ADA… fairness does not mean treating disabled people the same as non-disabled people. Rather it means accommodating them. In other words, the law requires that people be treated unequally.” Stossel also claims the ADA “unleashed a landslide of lawsuits by ‘professional litigants’ who file a hundred suits at a time. Disabled people visit businesses to look for violations, but instead of simply asking that a violation be corrected, they partner with lawyers who (legally) extort settlement money from the businesses.” Instead of helping disabled people, Stossel says, the law merely provides “[m]ore money for the parasites.” (Stossel 9/1/2010) Republican candidate Rand Paul has made similar claims (see May 17, 2010), as has conservative columnist Ross Douthat (see July 29, 2010).


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