Bipartisan Bill Would Restore the ADA's Protections Against Discrimination

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced a bill in Congress that aims to restore the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as a potent force for those who face workplace discrimination because of disability. Charging that due to a series of court decisions the ADA no longer protects many whom it was intended to help, leading members of the House and Senate, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) have introduced the ADA Restoration Act of 2007.

The original ADA was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by President H.W. Bush in 1990. Its objective was to "break down the physical and societal barriers that kept disabled Americans from fully participating in the American Dream,' according to Rep. Sensenbrenner. But in the past 17 years a number of Supreme Court decisions have chipped away at the law's protections.

For example, in a 1998 case, Sutton v. United Airlines, the Court ruled that someone may be considered not to have a disability if he is taking medications that mitigate it. This means that because of improvements in anti-seizure medications, for instance, people with epilepsy are not protected by the ADA and cannot seek legal recourse if they are discriminated against because of their diagnosis. Others with diabetes, heart conditions, and cancer have had their ADA claims thrown out of court because, with improvements in medications, they are considered too "functional" to be considered "disabled," even though employers may consider them too disabled to be hired. Rep. Hoyer noted that 'the point of the law is not disability; the point is discrimination" against those who have conditions that could prompt employers not to hire them.

The new bill seeks to restore the original intent of the ADA by broadening the definition of 'disability.' Several crucial changes in the Act's language would allow individuals to focus on the discrimination that they have suffered rather than on whether or not they fall within the ADA'™s scope as "disabled," and would harmonize the ADA with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and sex. A person who uses "mitigating measures," such as a hearing aid, prosthetic limb or medication, would once again be protected under the law.

"We urge Congress to quickly pass this bill to restore the rights of all Americans to be free from unfair discrimination," said Curt Decker, Executive Director of the National Disability Rights Network.

Currently, the bill has 181 House and two Senate co-sponsers. The timeline for the legislation is unclear, but it is expected that consideration of the bill will go past the fall into the second session of the 110th Congress.

To read the text of the ADA Restoration Act of 2007, see H.R. 3195, or S.1881,

To keep abreast of the latest developments on the Act by reading the American Association of of People with Disabilities' blog, go to: Article Last Modified: 08/30/2007