Friday, June 27, 2008

Move to revamp ADA moves to the Senate

Here's an update from the New York Times on the move to revamp, and hopefully improve, the Americans With Disabilities Act. I personally have mixed feelings about this. But, I must add that with everything going on in HPSland I haven't had time to adequately research this.

My concern is this: if we expand the definition of the disabled in this way, does that then make them eligible for programs designed to encourage employers to hire the disabled. And, if so, how? Here's the scenario I'm worried about.

Let's say there are two applicants for a job. Both apply under a program designed to encourage employment of the disabled. One has, say, an illness that is currently controlled by medication and not easily visible to the employer. The other is, lets say, blind. The employer is going to get "credit" for being a good employer and hiring someone with a disability either way. One person requires no adaptations, no money spent to make anything accessible etc. The other will. Would the employer find it easier to get around any misconceptions they might have about the blind person because they're hiring the other disabled candidate?

The trouble is disabilities vary widely and affect us all in such different ways.

On the other hand, I'm happy to see medical issues added to ADA. My ostomy issues come up as an example of how that could impact HPS'ers. If I have an issue at work, I need a private bathroom. And if there isn't one available, I need to be allowed to go home and fix it. This doesn't happen often, but man, when it does it really stresses me out - both because of the obvious problem but also because of the worry of how I may be viewed at work. It isn't the kind of problem you broadcast to your office after all.

I want to be clear that I'm not saying that these other categories of people don't need legal protection. And, I really don't want to get into a contest about who is "really disabled" etc. But, if we're going to make these changes perhaps we need to review them in the context of other government programs.

It's just a concern and one I hope has been dealt with.

June 26, 2008
House Votes to Expand Civil Rights for Disabled
WASHINGTON — The House passed a major civil rights bill on Wednesday that would expand protections for people with disabilities and overturn several Supreme Court decisions issued in the last decade.

The bill, approved 402 to 17, would make it easier for workers to prove discrimination. It would explicitly relax some stringent standards set by the court and says that disability is to be “construed broadly,” to cover more physical and mental impairments.

Supporters of the proposal said it would restore the broad protections that Congress meant to establish when it passed the Americans With Disabilities Act that President George Bush signed in 1990.

Lawmakers said Wednesday that people with epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other ailments had been improperly denied protection because their conditions could be controlled by medication or were in remission. In a Texas case, for example, a federal judge said a worker with epilepsy could not be considered disabled because he was taking medications that reduced the frequency of seizures.

In deciding whether a person is disabled, the bill says, courts should generally not consider the effects of “mitigating measures” like prescription drugs, hearing aids and artificial limbs. Moreover, it adds, “an impairment that is episodic or in remission is a disability if it would substantially limit a major life activity when active.”

The chief sponsor of the bill, the House Democratic leader, Representative
Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, said the situation was now bizarre. “An individual may be considered too disabled by an employer to get a job, but not disabled enough by the courts to be protected by the A.D.A. from discrimination,” Mr. Hoyer said.

The chief Republican sponsor, Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin, said the Supreme Court had “chipped away at the protections” of the 1990 law, leaving millions of Americans with no recourse or remedy for discrimination.

For the entire article, see The New York Times Website.

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