Wednesday, June 18, 2008

NPR: ADA changes will move quickly

From Joseph Shapiro, a National Public Radio reporter who has covered disability topics for many years and is the author of No Pity: People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement:

Washington is expected to see a highly unusual outbreak of cooperation Wednesday, as two opponents agree on a law that would extend civil rights protection to millions of people.

Two groups that have been at odds — people with disabilities and American businesses — have put aside their differences to design a bill that now seems on an improbable fast track through Congress.

Advocates for people with disabilities say that recent court rulings have made the employment protections of the disability civil rights law almost meaningless, especially to people with diabetes, epilepsy, cancer, and mental illness. Last year, a court even ruled that a man with mental retardation was not considered disabled under the law.

So for several years, advocates for people with disabilities have talked about rewriting the civil rights law — even at the risk of giving opponents a chance to weaken it further.

Last year, a version of a bill quickly got support from more than half the House of
Representatives. That forced the business community to negotiate.

Business advocates say employers want to hire qualified workers with disabilities. And businesses benefit when the law is clearly defined. The disability side gave up
parts of its original proposal, and agreed to a definition of disability that's a little narrower than some disabled people wanted.

But the result is that two House committees are taking up the ADA Restoration Act. Its backers are hoping to get Congress and the White House to go along with their plan.