Congress Moves To Amend The ADA!

Posted by Carl Augusto
7/26/2007.

From Mark Richert, Esq., Director, Public Policy

Today, on the 17th anniversary of the signing into law of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), key leadership and members of the House and Senate are introducing measures in both chambers to amend the landmark disability civil rights law. The twin pieces of legislation are aimed at "restoring" the ADA's protections for all people with disabilities, protections which have been severely impaired by an array of wrongly-decided Supreme Court cases. These cases, which include rulings with considerable direct impact on people who are blind or visually impaired, essentially hold that employees who are in fact discriminated against on the basis of disability may nevertheless not be deemed by the courts to be disabled enough to sue their employers for such discrimination.

If not reversed by the legislation being proposed today, this trend in jurisprudence would leave people with low vision, for example, at risk for employment discrimination because of their vision loss but deny them a legal remedy if they happen to use low vision aids. In such a case, an employer could refuse to hire or retain a person with low vision on the basis of that disability alone, and the employee's case against such an employer might very well be dismissed or otherwise fail because judges applying the high court's rationale may see the employee's ability to read or perform other tasks with low vision aids or other assistive technology as proof that the employee doesn't really have a disability under the ADA. In short, one can currently be disabled enough to be discriminated against but not disabled enough to sue successfully.

The bills being introduced by leading Members of the House and Senate, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Representative Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), and Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), will ensure that the ADA is interpreted as broadly as originally intended by Congress. Advocates are being urged throughout the disability community to tell their Representatives and Senators to support this important legislation and to push for its prompt passage.

In addition, many within the disability community with particular interest in vision loss have also been concerned about an array of lower court rulings that are limiting the applicability of the ADA to commercial retailers or other public accommodations when they conduct business only via the Internet. Inclusion of provisions addressing this issue within the legislation being introduced today has been hotly debated among groups working on ADA restoration. For now, the consensus is that we are eagerly awaiting the publication of proposed regulations by the U.S. Department of Justice in the next few months which, we understand, are to include provisions resolving this matter. In the event that such proposed rules do not, advocacy will be undertaken as part of ADA restoration in Congress to clarify the law's coverage of Internet-only public accommodations.

Taken from http://w ww.afb.org/blog/blog_comments.asp?TopicID=3024.

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