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New 'Americans with Disabilities Act' Becomes Law

The ADA Amendment Act (ADAAA) was recently signed into law and will become effective on January 1, 2009. The bill, originally titled the “ADA Restoration Act,” was introduced to address what Congress viewed as a gradual weakening of the original ADA Act that limited certain disabled Americans from claiming protection under the law. Now, according to the Associated Press, “people who take medicine to control epilepsy, diabetes or cancer or use prosthetic limbs or hearing aids could use the [new] Americans With Disabilities Act to fight workplace discrimination.”

First passed in 1990, the ADA was responsible for requiring wheelchair ramps at many public buildings for the first time and banned discrimination of disabled Americans seeking employment. Congress found, however, that the intent of the ADA had been eroded in recent years, especially after a 1999 Supreme Court decision that exempted from the law's protection “people with partial physical disabilities as well as people with physical impairments that can be treated with medication or devices such as hearing aids.”

As a result, the new law redefines the legal definition of "disabled" from an impairment that "substantially limits" one or more life activities to an impairment that "materially restricts" these activities. With this change in definition, more American workers are included in the ADA's protected class, even those who have disabilities that are not apparent.

"Now what kind of person on the Supreme Court of the United States has some difficulty understanding that if you have to use a hearing aid, that does not lessen the nature of the disability?" said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in a recent AP article. With a strengthened ADA in place, “people with epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy, and developmental disabilities are in a situation where they would be considered disabled if they did not take medication, but might not qualify for ADA protection if they did,” said Rep. Betty Sutton, D-Ohio. 2006.

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