Legislation Expands Americans With Disabilities Act

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The House on Wednesday gave final approval to Senate legislation (S 3406) expanding the definition of disability for people claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the New York Times reports. The bill, approved by voice vote, states that the Supreme Court erred by "eliminating protection for many individuals whom Congress intended to protect" under the original ADA, passed in 1990 (Pear, New York Times, 9/18). The legislation was introduced in response to Supreme Court decisions in 1999 and 2002, which ruled that individuals who could compensate for their disabilities with medications, medical devices or prosthetics did not qualify for protection under ADA (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 9/12).

The bill stated, "The definition of disability in this act shall be construed in favor of broad coverage." According to the bill, courts should not consider the effects of "mitigating measures" such as hearing aids, prescription drugs and artificial limbs. It states, "an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active" (New York Times, 9/18).

The House, which first passed the bill in June, agreed by unanimous consent last week to send the Senate version of the bill to President Bush (CongressDaily, 9/18). White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said President Bush will sign the bill (Abrams, AP/Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/18).

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House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, "Tens of millions of Americans will enjoy even fuller rights -- the rights we intended for them when we passed the first ADA." He added, "Over the last 18 years the court has chipped away at that promise. We said we wanted broad coverage for people with disabilities and for people regarded as disabled" (Wayne/Demirjian, CQ Today, 9/17). Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said, "The Supreme Court decisions have led to a supreme absurdity, a Catch-22 situation. The more successful a person is at coping with a disability, the more likely it is the court will find that they are no longer disabled and therefore no longer covered under the ADA."

Lawrence Lorber, a labor law specialist who represents employers, said the bill would affect the outcome of "a slew of cases that were thrown out of court in the past." Employees who have "cancer or diabetes or learning disabilities will get their day in court and are more likely to get accommodations from employers," Lorber said (New York Times, 9/18).

Reprinted with permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. © 2007 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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