Disability Employment Awareness Month and Good News for Disabled Workers

Racing Wheelchair

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month, a time to recognize the contributions of persons with disabilities and celebrate recent advances in disability law.

Last week, President Bush signed into law the “ADA Amendments Act of 2008,” which expanded the definition of “disability” and clarified some issues that had restricted the application of the Americans With Disabilities Act.  Disability is to be “construed broadly” and not subject to the extended scrutiny that had made discrimination claims a nightmare for many disabled employees.  The bill’s sponsor, Representative Steny Hoyer (D) described the situation claimants faced: “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.” (Source:  New York Times)

With this change, the ADA has been fine tuned to clarify the original legislative intent and roll back a number of Supreme Court decisions that had restricted the definition of “disability” and “chipped away at the protections” of the law, according to Republican sponsor Representative F. James Sensenbrenner Jr.

The new law changes the standard an employee has to meet from “an impairment that prevents or severely restricts the individual from doing activities that are of central importance to most people’s daily lives.”  (Toyota v. Williams, 2002) to “materially restricts….major life activities includ[ing], but…not limited to, caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.”

Sounds like a minor thing?  That change from “severely restricts” to “materially restricts” could trigger legal protections for thousands of workers who faced an uphill battle under the old interpretation of the law.

For more information about the ADA:

ADA Library, Job Accommodations Network

Enforcement Guidance, Reasonable Accommodations (EEOC)

How to File a Discrimination Charge Under the ADA

*Image by Pablo Fausto

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