House Widely Approves ADA Amendments, But What Difference Will They Make If They Become Law?

Part I – Introduction

handicap bathroom door sign

On June 25, the House of Representatives passed an act amending the Americans With Disability Act (“ADA”). As compromise legislation approved by important business groups who had opposed a previous version, it stands a good chance of becoming law.

This is the first in a series of posts discussing the proposed amendments and what they might mean for employees and employers litigating ADA claims.

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (“ADAAA”) is a compromise version of the bill first introduced in the House in 2007, as the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 (“ADARA”).

In January, 2008, I weighed in against what I felt to be the overly-broad brush of the ADARA as initially introduced (mainly quoting the position of the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)).

A broad spectrum of business and disability rights organizations, including SHRM, now support the ADAAA.

Business Organization Support

  • Human Resource Policy Association
  • National Restaurant Association
  • National Association of Manufacturers
  • Society for Human Resource Management
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Disability Organization Support

  • American Association of People With Disabilities
  • American Diabetes Association
  • American Psychological Association
  • Epilepsy Foundation
  • National Alliance on Mental Illness
  • National Disability Rights Network
  • Paralyzed Veterans of America

Bipartisan Political Support

If the passage rate in the House (402-17) is any guide, it looks like clear sailing for Senate consideration. Obviously, the House vote included substantial Republican support.

However, although not threatening a veto, the Bush Administration has expressed some reservations, so Senate Republicans may succeed in pushing for a final version that is not quite as favorable to employees.

Key Changes

This series will explore, in order, four main aspects of the ADA affected by the ADAAA, which is billed as an antidote to court decisions felt by many to unduly limit the ADA’s scope and efficacy:

  1. Extent of impairment required to satisfy the definition of disability.
  2. Consideration of mitigating measures such as medication or prostheses in applying the definition of disability.
  3. Application of the requirement of reasonable accommodation to persons “regarded as disabled.”
  4. General interpretive guidance.

This series will dig rather deeply into the legislative process in an effort to understand and explain not only the impetus for this legislation, but also the intent behind the various amendments and compromises along the way — as this act has evolved from one strongly opposed by business to one that has gained the support of key business organizations without losing that of important voices representing the disabled.

Throughout this analysis, we will consider that new, benign-sounding standards inserted into legislation for the sake of placating both sides may have unintended and unfavorable practical legal implications.

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