Business gears up to fight efforts to strengthen the Americans With Disabilities Act

Posted on Oct 06, 2007

Many business groups are preparing themselves for a battle over whether the Americans with Disabilities Act should be expanded.

The law, passed in 1990 ensures that disabled persons will receive equal rights in workplaces, transportation and other aspects of daily life.

Advocates for the rights of the disabled contend that legislation is required in order to address court decisions that have limited who qualifies as a person with a disability. For example, the Supreme Court has ruled that individuals who have mitigated the effects of their impairments through medication or assistive devices don't qualify for the act's protections.

Disability victims advocates in response to harsh court rulings which have distorted the intent of the original Americans with Disabilities Act have proposed enactment of The ADA Restoration Act.

The purpose of  the Restoration Act is to correct the errors of federal trial courts and to help put disabled citizens on more equal footing.

"These cases have created a bizarre Catch-22 where people with serious conditions like epilepsy or diabetes could be forced to choose between treating their conditions and forfeiting their protections under the ADA, or not treating their conditions and being protected," said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, sponsor of the ADA Restoration Act. "This is not what Congress intended when we passed this law 17 years ago."

The American Diabetes Associates cited the case of a Nebraska pharmacist who was fired from his job at Wal-Mart because he took too many lunch breaks he needed so he could eat to manage his diabetes. After an ADA claim was filed against Wal-Mart by the pharmacist, courts decided he was not protected by the ADA because he so effectively managed his diabetes.

Opposed to the legislation is the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who contends that the bill is not "a simple tweak of the ADA, but rather a wholesale rewriting of it."

The current definition of the ADA is that individuals have to have an impairment that "substantially limits one or more of the major life activities." The chamber wrote to House members that the legislation would change that definition so that any individual with an impairment (for example, poor eyesight) would be considered disabled and would force the employer to accommodate them.

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