Environmental Factor, April 2009, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
Roman Outlines New ADA Amendment
By Eddy Ball
A new amendment to the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and 1973 Rehabilitation Act went into effect on January 1, 2009, extending coverage of employees with disabling conditions. Despite some initial challenges for supervisors, the legislation will offer a wider range of equal employment opportunities to everyone, said NIH Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Specialist Gerard Roman in his "ADA Rehab Act Update" presentation March 10.
The ADA Amendments Act of 2008, Roman explained, does not change the basic provisions of the act, which he described as "a major step in the long journey toward equal rights for all citizens." However, the legislation does change the meaning of some of some key terms used to determine just which individuals are covered by the law.
The new legislation, Roman said, expands the concept of "substantial limitation" due to disability, broadens the range of "major life activities" and limits the application of the "mitigating measures" provision. As a result, the act extends the protection of the law to many people who were not considered "disabled enough" under previous interpretations of the law.
The 2008 Act includes people with "episodic or in remission" impairments as people with disabilities protected by the law if the impairments would "substantially limit a major life activity when active." The Act also clarifies what it means to be "regarded as" having a disability. People experiencing discrimination based on the perception that a person has a disability, whether the person has a disability or not, will now have extended grounds for protection by the law.
Sponsored by the NIEHS Disability Advocacy Committee, the presentation was a "heads-up" for supervisors and employees at NIEHS. Roman said that more details would be forthcoming as revised regulations are issued within the next few months. He gave attendees a Job Accommodation Network (JAN) Bulletin (http://www.jan.wvu.edu/bulletins/adaaa1.htm) on the new law and a copy of the presentation given at the December 9 NIH Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management NIH-only seminar (http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?14821) on the subject by consultant Ernest Hadley, president of the Federal Employment Law Training Group (http://www.feltg.com/) .
According to Roman, the legislation was a response to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) interpretations, as well as high profile legal decisions that set too high a standard for coverage under the 1990 ADA and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. Previous interpretations denied redress to many individuals who experienced employment discrimination related to their disabilities. Roman referred to court rulings that impairments could not be considered as disabilities under the narrow definitions then in force - even though the conditions later resulted in the deaths of the plaintiffs.
Roman began his talk by offering some perspective on "the dark history of discrimination on the basis of disability" and why the new legislation is so important in the struggle to provide fair treatment for all people. The amendments, he said, promise to help "restore the original intent of our disability laws."
Underscoring the need for the new legislation, Roman said, are the significant employment and income disparities experienced by persons with disabilities. The new provisions, he said, will help people with disabilities overcome the "myths and fears [that] are as limiting as the impairment itself," offering them a more equal opportunity for fulfilling their potential as productive individuals.