NEW YORK, N.Y. – This coming Sunday will mark 25 years to the day since President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law, and Americans are clearly still behind the legislation with 83% of those who have seen, heard or read anything about the legislation saying they favor and support it. It’s worth noting that this support is universal, with strong majorities of Americans favoring the act across demographic, socioeconomic and political lines.

“We were pleased to see that the overwhelming majority of Americans favor and support the ADA, which brought about unprecedented improvements in the quality of life for millions of Americans with disabilities,” says Carol Glazer, President, National Organization on Disability. “This broad support has laid a foundation for a growing number of employers to discover the benefits of including people with disabilities as part of a productive workforce.”

Breaking out specific provisions of the act, roughly nine in ten U.S. adults support the idea that public places may not discriminate against customers on the basis of disability (90%) and that employers may not discriminate against qualified candidates on the basis of a disability (88%). Over eight in ten support the provision that public transportation vehicles be made accessible to people with disabilities (83%), and three-fourths are in favor of employers with over 15 employees being expected to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities (75%). However, when it comes down to what conditions Americans believe should actually qualify as disabilities (and thus be applicable for such protections) these consensuses begin to break down.

These are among the findings from a Harris Poll of 2,220 U.S. adults (aged 18 and older) surveyed online from June 17-22, 2015.

Strong majorities of Americans believe vision loss, blindness, or other permanent vision impairments (88%); cerebral palsy (83%); hearing loss, deafness, or other permanent hearing impairments (79%); multiple sclerosis (78%); autism (68%); and epilepsy (68%) should qualify as disabilities.

Over half also believe speech and language disorders (57%), learning disabilities (54%) and cancer (52%) should qualify, though only minorities of older Americans and Republicans are behind these particular conditions being considered disabilities:

  • Speech and language disorders: 41% of Matures, 47% of Republicans
  • Learning disabilities: 44% of Matures, 46% of Republicans
  • Cancer: 48% of Baby Boomers, 41% of Matures, 45% of Republicans

Majorities of Millennials (57%) and Democrats (54%) believe schizophrenia should qualify, while lower percentages of other generations (44% Gen Xers, 41% Baby Boomers, 27% Matures) and political persuasions (37% Republicans, 42% Independents) say the same, bringing the total support for this condition qualifying to 46%.

Three in ten Americans believe depression (29%) should qualify, while just over two in ten say the same of migraine headaches (22%), 17% say the same of morbid obesity and 16% believe anorexia or bulimia should qualify. One in ten feel that drug addiction (10%) or alcoholism (9%) should qualify, while 5% say the same of compulsive gambling.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those who say they or someone else in their household faces an emotional or mental disability are especially likely to believe autism (75%), schizophrenia (67%) and depression (57%) should be considered qualifying conditions.

Employer onus and political considerations

A strong majority of Americans (66%) agree that a person should be required to disclose any disability during the job interview process. Americans are more split on the sentiment that a company should not be required to accommodate existing disabilities that went undisclosed during the interview process, with 48% agreeing, 41% disagreeing and 11% unsure. While some do believe that the ADA goes against the idea of treating everyone equally (28%), the disagreement with this statement is far stronger (50%).

Americans are not without reservations about the ADA, as a plurality of Americans agree that the legislation puts too much of a burden on small companies (45%, with 34% disagreeing and 21% unsure).

Older Americans are more likely than their younger counterparts to agree that…

  • Job candidates should have to disclose any disabilities during the interview process (82% Matures, 74% Baby Boomer, 64% Gen Xers, 55% Millennials)
  • A company should not be required to  accommodate existing disabilities that were not disclosed during the interview process (57%, 56%, 43% and 40%, respectively)
  • The ADA puts too much of a burden on small companies (60%, 51%, 39% and 38%, respectively)

Those adults who either have some type of disability themselves or else share a home with someone who has a disability are less likely than those with no such connection to agree that a person should disclose any disability during the job interview process (61% self, 60% other HH member, 71% none); it’s worth noting, though, that majorities of all three cohorts do agree with this sentiment.

Half of Americans agree (50%, with 33% disagreeing) that they’d base a congressional or senate voting decision on where a candidate stands on disability issues, while nearly half say the same when it comes to a presidential voting decision (47%, with 36% disagreeing).

Those with a disability, or living with someone with a disability, are especially likely to say they would base such voting decisions on where a candidate stands on disability issues.

  • Congressional or senate voting decision (56% self, 59% other HH member, 42% none)
  • Presidential voting decision (55%, 56% and 40%, respectively)


View the data tables here.



This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between June 17 and 22, 2015 among 2,220 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #43, June 24, 2015

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Managing Editor, The Harris Poll