Back in February we blogged a rather drastic proposal to "restore" the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by expanding eligibility to just about anyone. We feared that blurring the lines between transient conditions and impairments that "substantially limit" major life activities would paralyze American business, clog the courts with trivial cases and divert attention away from the truly disabled, who desperately need ADA protection.
Well, it appears that the "restoration" has been restored and the "fix" has been fixed. Proposed reforms would expand coverage where the U.S. Supreme Court had curtailed it: individuals whose disabilities can be treated - with medication, with prosthetic devices, with assistive technology - would still be considered disabled. In other words, their ADA protection would not end simply because their disability is mitigated through some form of treatment. (Got that, Justice Thomas?)
The fix also addresses the paradox of "regarded as" disability. This involves situations where an individual is discriminated against because he or she is perceived to have an impairment: "Jack looks like an alcoholic." These people do not require accommodation (they are not really disabled), but the ADA will ensure that they are not discriminated against based upon a false perception.
While disagreement on the nature of disabilities will continue, substantial agreement has been reached on language for the revised ADA statute. Here are some of the organizations that have signed off on the proposed revisions:
- American Association of People with Disabilities
- American Diabetes Association
- Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law
- Epilepsy Foundation
No surprises there. But check out some of the mainstream business organizations that are also on board:
- National Association of Manufacturers
- National Restaurant Association
- US Chamber of Commerce
With such diverse and powerful backing, the ADA fix appears to be headed for passage. That's all well and good. But as we pointed out in February, there is a sad paradox in the ADA itself: since the law was enacted in 1992, overall levels of employment for the disabled have declined. Employers, intimidated by the law's many requirements, apparently take the path of least resistance and avoid hiring qualified disabled applicants. So in some respects the ADA "fix" compounds the problem. The real fix goes beyond the language of this or any other law: it involves transcending stereotypes and embracing people for who they really are and recognizing what they are truly capable of doing.