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Public Statements

ADA Amendments Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Madam Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 3195, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. I am very pleased that the House is considering this important legislation, and I urge our friends in the Senate to swiftly take action on it as well.

As it stands now, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) leaves too many Americans at an unfair disadvantage. Many workers who suffer from debilitating diseases such as epilepsy or cancer are being discriminated against in the workplace but are denied redress by the courts. No one should be denied employment or be fired from his or her job because of a disability, but the Supreme Court has on multiple occasions interpreted the law in a way that opens the door to this possibility. In fact, plaintiffs lost 97 percent of ADA employment discrimination claims in 2004 alone, often due to the interpretation of the definition of ``disability.''

The starkest demonstration of this problem is found in Toyota Motor Manufacturing v. Williams, which the Supreme Court considered in 2002. The majority decision in this case held that the ADA's language regarding the extent of disability must be strictly interpreted so that legal protections from discrimination would apply only to those whose disabilities are long-term or permanent, and substantially limit their ability to perform routine tasks.

This was not the intent of the ADA. Congress passed the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 to clearly and comprehensively eliminate discrimination against all individuals with disabilities. Since that time, the ADA has transformed our Nation, helping millions of Americans with disabilities succeed in the workplace, and making transportation, housing, buildings, and services more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The bill we are considering today restores the original intent of Congress by rejecting the Supreme Court decisions that have reduced protections for people with disabilities. Additionally, the legislation clarifies the definition of ``disability'' to include what it means to be ``substantially limited in a major life activity.'' The legislation also prohibits the consideration of mitigating measures such as medication, prosthetics, and assistive technology in determining whether an individual has a disability, and provides coverage to people who experience discrimination based on a perception of impairment regardless of whether the individual does in fact have a disability.

The most important factor for a court to weigh in on a discrimination case should be the allegation itself--not the extent or nature of a worker's disability. This is not what every day Americans stand for, and this is not what Congress meant when the law was originally enacted.

By more clearly defining the term ``disabled,'' we will be able to free up the courts in the future to focus on alleged acts of discrimination and better protect the American workers for whom this law was enacted.

I urge my colleagues to join the broad coalition of civil rights groups, disability advocates, and employer trade organizations who support this bill and vote with me to stop discrimination against individuals with disabilities by restoring the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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