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House Passes the ADA Amendments Act – Bill Now Cleared for the President’s Signature

On September 17, 2008, the House unanimously passed legislation to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and overturn a series of Supreme Court decisions that had narrowed the scope of the law in recent years.  The bill unanimously passed the Senate on September 11 and is now on its way to the White House where the President is expected to sign it into law as early as next week.

Background on S 3406, the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act

The ADA Amendments Act represents a historic alliance comprised of leading employer, civil rights and disability groups, who have agreed to support legislation ensuring civil rights protections for millions of Americans with disabilities.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (S 3406/HR 3195) reaffirms civil rights protections dismantled by a series of Supreme Court decisions that narrowly interpreted the definition of disability, leaving people with epilepsy, diabetes, cancer and mental illness without the protections Congress envisioned when the ADA was originally enacted in 1990.

Business, human resource, disability and civil rights organizations have recognized that the courts went too far in some decisions, leaving out many people with disabilities that Congress intended to protect. In a 2007 case, a Court even held that an individual with severe intellectual disabilities ("mental retardation") was not covered by the
ADA
 because he had failed to adequately demonstrate his impairment substantially limited a major life activity. The alliance of employer and disability advocacy organizations negotiated the compromise to clarify elements of the ADA Amendments Act, a bill first introduced in July of 2007.

S 3406 clarifies for the courts that people with disabilities should not lose civil rights protections because their condition is treatable with medication or can be addressed with the help of assistive technology. The bill also clarifies the definition of disability to include all individuals whose impairment substantially limits a major life activity.
  Among the key provisions in S 3406 are:

  • Broadened coverage under the ADA. The bill clarifies that Congress intended the ADA to be interpreted broadly rather than narrowly, as the Supreme Court has held.
  • A revised standard to qualify for protection broader than that applied by the courts.  The ADA protects individuals who have an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, who have a record of such impairment, or who are treated as having such an impairment.  S 3406 retains the definition of "disability" as an impairment that "substantially limits" a major life activity, the legislation does not provide a new definition for the term "substantially limits."   Instead, the bill uses the findings and purposes section to reject Court and agency interpretation of "substantially limits" as too stringent and directing them to interpret the terms of the definition to create a less demanding standard.
  • New standards for "mitigating measures" (measures a person takes to control the effects of a disability) cannot be held against people with disabilities. Many people with mental illnesses have been denied protection under the ADA because they use medication, therapy or other measures to control the effects of their disabilities. This bill would overturn several Supreme Court decisions and provide that people with disabilities will not lose their coverage under the ADA simply because their condition is treatable with medication or can be addressed with the help of assistive technology.
  • Improved coverage for episodic impairments.  Many people with mental illnesses have been denied protection under the ADA because their impairments are episodic.  This bill would ensure that an episodic impairment counts as a disability as long as it would meet the test for a disability when it is active.
  • Broader coverage for people who are subjected to discrimination because they are regarded by others as having a disability.  The bill makes it much easier for individuals to obtain protection under the ADA by showing that they were "regarded as" having a disability.  

Learn more about the Americans With Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008.  


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