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NCD: Time To Restore Strength Of ADA
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
December 2, 2004

WASHINGTON, DC--The National Council on Disability said Wednesday that it is time for Congress to strengthen some provisions of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act which have been weakened by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent years.

In a 154-page analysis, entitled "Righting the ADA", the NCD proposed lawmakers pass an "ADA Restoration Act of 2004".

Among other things, the amendment would change language in the ADA to prohibit discrimination "on the basis of disability" rather than "against an individual with a disability" as it currently states. The existing language has often led courts to focus on whether a person's disability is substantial enough to receive protection against discrimination, instead of focusing on whether or how the person was discriminated against.

NCD Chairperson Lex Frieden said "Legislation is urgently needed to restore the ADA to 'assure equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency' for Americans with disabilities."

In a press conference at the National Press Club, NCD members and other advocates explained that, while the ADA was written as the "preeminent" document supporting the rights of people with disabilities, several decisions by the Supreme Court have had negative affects on the law since 1999. Those rulings have narrowed the definition of disability, the coverage of the ADA, and remedies available under the law. At the same time, the high court has created or expanded defenses against people with disabilities under the ADA.

"The ADA rejects the medical model and has a social model of discrimination," said L. Robert Burgdorf, Jr., the University of the District of Columbia law professor who drafted the report.

"It is intended not to look at how different people are, but how people are treated differently, and it is supposed to prohibit unjustified treatment."

Those speaking at the press conference noted that access to transportation, technology, and buildings has improved dramatically since the ADA became law. Still, employment rates for people with disabilities -- an condition that the ADA was designed to correct -- have not substantially changed in the last 14 years.

"People with disabilities are not participating at nearly the same rate as people without disabilities," said Nancy Starnes, National Organization on Disability Vice President and Director of Partnership Programs.

The report was submitted formally to the Bush administration and members of Congress. Advocates hope to get support for the measure soon in the form of congressional sponsors.

The National Council on Disability is an independent federal agency responsible for gathering information about the ADA's implementation, effectiveness, and impact and reporting it to the government and public.

"When a ship or boat has gotten off course as a result of a storm, other environmental conditions, or other causes, it is necessary to 'right' its course," the report states. "When a vessel is listing (tilting) excessively or has tipped over, it is necessary to 'right' it by keeping it on an even keel so that the vessel can return to its upright position. Similarly, the ADA needs to be 'righted' so that it can accomplish the lofty and laudable objectives that led Congress to enact it."

"Righting the ADA" (National Council on Disability)
[PDF format requires free Adobe Acrobat Reader]


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