Bills that would restore what their backers contend is Congress’ original intent for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) were introduced in the House and Senate late last month. Proponents want enough cosponsors to sign onto the legislation so that it moves quickly through congressional channels and on to the president. Despite hope for action on Capitol Hill, the White House is unlikely to welcome the legislation.
This is just the most recent effort by disability-rights activists to repair what they consider to be the damage done to the ADA by Supreme Court decisions that strictly limit the persons who can claim the law’s protection. Such rulings have been possible because of language in the original statute that allowed the high court to focus attention on who may be considered disabled instead of on the discrimination actually experienced by a person with a disability.
“The Supreme Court’s interpretations of this historic law have been largely inconsistent with the original intent of Congress and President George H.W. Bush in enacting the ADA,” said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) when he cosponsored similar legislation last year. “We intended the law to be broadly — not narrowly — interpreted. The point of the law is not disability; the point is discrimination.”
Hoyer and then-House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) were concerned that discrimination experienced by people disabled by diabetes, heart disease and cancer were unable to win the ADA’s protection. An autoworker suffering from job-related carpel-tunnel syndrome was fired and sought redress through the ADA. The ADA claim of a terminated grocery worker with impaired vision was similarly rejected. Both cases involved people with disabilities who alleged discrimination on the basis of their disabilities. Instead of looking at their claim of discrimination, the Supreme Court focused on whether the plaintiffs were genuinely disabled, and, deciding they were not, ruled against them.
The ADA Restoration Act, H.R. 3195 in the House and S. 1881 in the Senate, would prevent such rulings in the future.
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