Leahy, Sanders Hail Senate Passage Of Bill To Reverse Narrow Interpretations Of Americans With Disabilities Act

WASHINGTON, September 11 - The Senate late Thursday passed legislation, cosponsored by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), that would rejuvenate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the face of several court decisions that have narrowed its definitions and coverage.

In recent years the Supreme Court and several lower courts have issued decisions eroding the standards for determining who qualifies as individuals with disabilities. These narrow rulings ensure that the persons Congress intended to shield, including those with severe illnesses like epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, are no longer protected. The result is that millions of Americans facing discrimination are now excluded from ADA protection.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 passed Thursday by the Senate underscores Congress' intent to reinstate a broad scope of protection for persons with disabilities under the ADA. The legislation would modify findings in the ADA that have been used by courts to narrowly interpret what constitutes a disability and lowers the burden of proving that one is "disabled enough" to qualify for coverage.

"The ADA has been a blessing to millions of Americans who face discrimination," said Leahy, a cosponsor of the landmark 1990 legislation that created the ADA. "Ensuring its continued effectiveness is vitally important to countless families, who deserve every effort we can make to keep those doors of opportunity open. We cannot afford to let the great progress we have made slip away for a new generation of Americans."

Sanders, a member of the Senate health committee, said, "The Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to provide broad protection for the estimated 18 percent of the U.S. population that lives with some level of disability. Recent court decisions limited the number of people who are allowed to seek the law's protections, leading to widespread non-compliance and a great deal of misunderstanding about the responsibilities of businesses, governments, and individuals. There is still a long way to go to ensuring that the basic civil rights of persons with disabilities are fully protected and respected, but this is an important step in that direction."

The legislation has the support of national disability organizations as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Society for Human Resource Management, and the Human Resources Policy Association. Similar legislation, cosponsored by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), passed the House of Representatives in June.