The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which has been in and out of the headlines for years, is back in public view in this election season. An updated version, the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) of 2008, is expected to come into force on January 1, and both presidential candidates’ campaigns include programs designed to help disabled people.
Enacted 26 July 1990, the ADA prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities and transportation. In a ADA case management study, Nancy L. Schott, Counsel-General Litigation at Ford Motor Company, described Title I of the ADA as the most comprehensive — and most litigated — employment statute enacted by the United States Congress since 1964.
In one high-profile case, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Toyota in January 2002 when it decided that former employee Ella Williams did not qualify as “disabled” under the ADA. A link to occupational ergonomics in the case was that Williams purportedly suffered from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) and related ailments that resulted from her duties as an assembly worker in a Toyota Manufacturing plant. Whether her condition was caused by her work was not at issue: Toyota did not ask the Court to decide on an issue of ergonomics. They did, however, ask the Court whether her impairments qualified Williams as “disabled” under the ADA.
The ADA Amendment Act of 2008 (ADAAA) was signed into law by President Bush on 25 September, and the revisions become effective in January. Some 220 organizations weighed in on an earlier version of the ADAAA — including the US Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and the Society for Human Resource Management. The 2008 Act represents a compromise.
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the ADAAA makes important changes to the definition of the term "disability" by rejecting the holdings in several Supreme Court decisions and portions of EEOC’s ADA regulations. The Act retains the ADA’s basic definition of "disability" as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. It changes the way that these statutory terms should be interpreted, however.
The Epoch Times, an international news publication covering the November election, notes that both Democratic Sen. Barak Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain have included the disability issue in their presidential campaign platforms. Both support full funding for the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a law passed in 1975 under President Gerald Ford that has always lacked sufficient financial backing to achieve its aims.
Sources: US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; Ford Motor Company; Epoch Times