ADA Amendments Act Working Its Way Through Congress

A large, bipartisan group of senators signed on as co-sponsors of the ADA Amendments Act (S.3406) which was introduced August 1. The bill will strengthen the protections of the original Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), passed in 1990.

Sens. Tom Harkin, D. Iowa, and Orrin Hatch, R. Utah, led the effort to sign on 66 senators as co-sponsors of the bill.  With so many co-sponsors, there is a good chance that the Senate leadership will bring the bill to the floor to a vote.

The House passed its version of the bill overwhelmingly (402-17) on June 25.  Thus it is possible that it will be sent to the President on veto-proof majority votes from both the House and Senate. 

In a statement, Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, praised the bill's introduction: "The ADA Amendments Act is the most significant civil rights bill of the 110th Congress. This act will correct narrow court interpretations that have restricted ADA coverage in the workplace, and taken away coverage for people with diabetes, epilepsy, serious heart conditions, mental disabilities, and even cancer."

She noted the cooperation and bipartisan spirit under which the Congress has considered the legislation: "In this era of partisan politics, the dramatic convergence of the business, disability and broader civil rights communities is a testament to the importance of this legislation to diverse constituencies as well as the power of coalition politics."

Sandy Finucane, vice president of the Epilepsy Foundation, agreed: "The introduction of this bill, with such broad bipartisan support, is a tribute to the hard work and conviction of Sens. Hatch and Harkin, who worked tirelessly to get it done. This is a major victory for the disability community."

The bill will overturn several Supreme Court rulings which have narrowed the interpretation of the ADA and substantially limited protections for millions of Americans.

For example, the Court ruled in the 1999 case Sutton v. United Airlines that individuals are not considered disabled if they are able to manage the symptoms of their impairments with medication or assistive devices. The new bill clarifies that disability should be determined without considering "mitigating measures."

Similarly, the bill requires that people whose disabilities occur only in episodes have their disabilities assessed when their symptoms are present – important for many disorders including depression and epilepsy.



Source: David Schraub - Article
August 5, 2008