Oct 06, 2008
President Signs the ADA Amendments Act — a Bill Reaffirming Protections for People with Disabilities
The power of the Society’s MS activist network to help move public policy legislation forward was dramatically illustrated with the recent passage and signing of the ADA Amendments Act, which brings millions of people back under the protection of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
When originally signed into law in 1990, the ADA made it clear that a disability need not leave an individual disabled when it came to the opportunities this country offers for a full and productive life, including workplace protections.
However, over time a series of narrow judicial interpretations chipped away at the original intent of Congress until those ADA workplace protections disintegrated and were largely being ignored. This left the very members of society that the law was meant to protect vulnerable to a whole new kind of discrimination in that the courts were ruling that people with disabilities who could “control their symptoms by taking disease modifying drugs” were precluded from seeking reasonable workplace accommodations. This placed their employment and financial security at risk.
According to Sen.Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chief sponsor of the ADA Amendments Act, as reported in a recent New York Times article, “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.”
By passing the new ADA Amendments Act Congress has ensured that the definition of “disability” will be construed fairly and broadly once more. The Act, which becomes effective January 1, 2009, reverses four Supreme Court decisions that had significantly limited ADA coverage for persons with MS, epilepsy, diabetes and a range of other conditions which are controlled by medication, are episodic and/or do not always severely restrict major life activities. Such cases will now have to focus on whether individuals were discriminated against based on their disability and, if so, whether the individuals are qualified for their jobs.
This expanded definition of disability should make it easier for workers to prove discrimination. For instance, in deciding whether a person is disabled, the bill states that courts should not consider the effects of “mitigating measures” such a prescription drugs, hearing aids and artificial limbs. Moreover, it provides that “an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.”
Says Elizabeth Giardina, who is employed at a major banking institution and who has lived with the vicissitudes of MS for more than 14 years, “This ADA Amendments Act makes a real difference in real people’s lives. So far I’ve been fortunate with my MS and have not experienced many of the debilitating effects of the disease, but it is very reassuring to know that should I experience more significant impairment and need reasonable accommodations in the workplace, I will have the protection under this bill to secure them without penalty. It’s very difficult for most people to understand how unpredictable and periodically disabling MS can be when someone is experiencing a relapse.”
MS activists worked passionately alongside the disability community as a whole to help push the ADA Amendments Act through Congress this year and President Bush signed the historic piece of legislation into law on September 25. All involved can be proud of this achievement.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will soon issue guidance to help employees and employers interpret the new law. Click here to learn more about the ADAAA bill (now Public Law No: 110-325).
http://www.nationalmssociety.org/news/n ... px?nid=399