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Agency Urges Changes to Disability Act


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Agency Urges Changes to Disability Act

Mon Nov 29, 6:25 PM ET U.S. National - AP

By EILEEN PUTMAN, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - An independent federal agency wants President Bush (news - web sites) to propose changes in the nation's landmark disability act, citing Supreme Court decisions it says have reduced the status of disabled people "to that of second-class citizens."

The National Council on Disability, which advises Congress and the president, said in a report being released Wednesday that legislation is needed to restore the original intent of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.

The council proposed an "ADA Restoration Act," which it likened to the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, passed by Congress to broaden the civil rights law enacted two decades earlier.

Specifically, the council said Congress should bar discrimination against anyone "on the basis of disability," a change from the current wording, which bars discrimination "against an individual with a disability."

The latter wording tends to be narrowly construed and has often resulted in judges trying to decide whether someone actually has a life-altering disability and thus qualifies for protection, the council said.

"All Americans are potentially susceptible to discrimination on the basis of disability, whether they actually have physical or mental impairments and regardless of the degree of any such impairment," said the council report, which was sent to Bush.

The 1990 law signed by Bush's father was intended to ensure equal rights for the disabled and has brought a host of changes in workplaces, transportation, communication and other aspects of American life. Among other things, companies must make reasonable attempts to accommodate workers with physical impairments, while buildings, transportation and other public facilities must be accessible to all.

The council cited "negative court decisions" that have narrowed or cut back the influence of the law. The cases include:

_Sutton v. United Air Lines Inc., 1999. The Supreme Court found that severely myopic twins who had unsuccessfully sought pilot jobs with United Airlines were not actually disabled because their vision could be corrected by eyeglasses.

_Toyota Motor Mfg. v. Williams, 2002. The Supreme Court said a Toyota assembly line worker with carpal tunnel syndrome, fired because of her poor attendance record, was not entitled to protection under the disability act because it was not clear that she had substantial impairment of "any major life activity."

_The court used a similar rationale in a 1999 case, Albertsons Inc. v. Kirkingburg, in which a driver for Albertsons was erroneously certified as meeting visual standards for truck drivers; when the error was discovered, Albertsons fired him and refused to rehire him even after he obtained a waiver from the standards. The court ruled the driver had not shown the alleged disability affected a major life activity.

_Murphy v. United Parcel Service, 1999. The high court ruled against a UPS mechanic who was fired because his blood pressure exceeded health guidelines. The man had challenged his firing on grounds his high blood pressure was a disability, but the Supreme Court disagreed because the man could function normally with the help of blood pressure medication.

National Council on Disability: http://www.ncd.gov

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