Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Make ADA protection as broad as possible

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a civil rights bill that would restore broad protections to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act. The U.S. Senate is also expected to pass a similar measure.

The ADA made places and opportunities accessible to people who had previously been denied. Unfortunately, however, under some U.S. Supreme Court rulings, people were denied protection because their conditions were in remission or could be controlled by medication.

The New York Times cited the ruling in a Texas case that a worker with epilepsy could not be considered disabled because he was taking medications that reduced the frequency of seizures. Rulings like this would not help much, of course, in remedying discrimination, because it doesn’t go into remission. You can’t cure discrimination nor reduce its severity with drugs.

House Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer was quoted by the NYT saying “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 ADA from discrimination.”

Employer groups and disability rights advocates have collaborated in support of restoring the ADA to its original intent. One of the groups that I subscribe to has circulated numerous postings to organize personal appearances as well as letter-writing campaigns to lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

Closer to home, a few years ago the City of Clearlake began to undertake an accessibility study of its public facilities. I reported at the time that the city contracted with a consulting firm, Moore Iacofano Goltsman, Inc.

Some of the potential barriers that were supposed to be identified included interior and exterior access for government facilities as well as sidewalks and curb ramps.

Some of the city intersections have no curb cuts for navigating sidewalks -- but then sidewalks are intermittent when you travel on Lakeshore Drive. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs and mobility scooters traveling very near the roadway due to the absence of sidewalks. Many of them dress very sensibly in bright reflective vests.

I don’t ever recall hearing further about the study that the consultant was supposed to prepare. I would have liked to put a follow-up in the newspaper.

If the ADA expansion can be signed into law, now would be an excellent time to revisit that project in Clearlake, because federal legislation will be the most up-to-date.

The NYT quotes the White House as saying that “although President Bush ‘supports the overall intent’ of the House bill, he was concerned that it ‘could unduly expand’ coverage and significantly increase litigation.”

But if the ADA has to err, I would much rather wish that its protections be construed too broadly. I think that anyone who believes he or she has a legitimate grievance, ought to be guaranteed fair and impartial protection.

I also believe that everyone ought to be able to live life as fully as possible and contribute to society. With this objective in mind, how can we be willing to settle for anything less than absolute protection, less than an absolute guarantee?

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