President and CEO of Bender Consulting Services.
In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed at the White House in front of thousands of people with disabilities, advocates, and friends. It was a beautiful morning when President George H. W. Bush signed into law the bill that would provide Americans with disabilities the same rights as the non-disabled. We all remember those words of President George H. W. Bush when he said, "Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down."
Sadly, since that day, those words have not come true in all areas; one of those areas is employment. Seventeen years later, how can we still have an unemployment rate of over 50% for Americans with significant disabilities? This is a national tragedy.
In addition, the ADA was weakened over the past several years by Supreme Court rulings that do not make sense. For example, Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc. in 1999 found that severely myopic twins who had unsuccessfully attempted to be hired as pilots by United Airlines were not actually disabled because glasses could correct that problem. This is a real "catch 22" situation. You are not hired because of a disability, but not covered by the ADA because it is really not a disability.
In Toyota Motor Mfg. v. Williams in 2002, the Supreme Court said that an assembly line worker with carpal tunnel syndrome, who was fired for poor attendance, could not claim it had anything to do with disability, as it was not clear that her disability was one that had an impairment that was causing a "major life activity" to be created. Once again, if you did have a disability that prevented you from a normal work week, you would not be covered if deemed it was not substantial enough.
As a woman with epilepsy and a hearing-loss, I have perfect attendance. But, the court would say that my disabilities would not be covered by the ADA because Dilantin and hearing-aids correct my problem. We all know in the disability community that attitudinal barriers exist towards disabilities like epilepsy, whether or not you are at that moment having a seizure.
The ultimate irony in all of this is that the Honorable Tony Coelho, former Democratic Whip in Congress, is the author of the Americans with Disabilities Act; guess what - he is a person living with epilepsy. I do not think Tony wanted to exclude himself when he authored the ADA. That is ludicrous.
Tony Coelho never stops. He has been working for years and years to help move the ADA Restoration Act forward. I remember at last year's National Epilepsy board meeting, Tony promised the board he would work on getting this accomplished.
On July 26, 2007, Congressional leaders Steny Hoyer, Majority Leader (D-MD), Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Arlen Spector (R-PA) introduced the ADA Restoration Act. What a great day. We still have a long way to go. We need you to tell your representatives in the House of Representatives and Senate to sign on, if they have not already done so. You should send them a thank you note if they are already a sponsor. We all want to see this bill passed and signed by the President as we did with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
At the ceremony on July 26th, Congressman Steny Hoyer said, "Courts have ruled that medication or other corrective measures have made ADA claimants too functional to be considered disabled under the law. Let me be clear: This is not what Congress intended when it passed the ADA. We intended a broad application of the law. Simply put the point of the ADA is not disability; it is the prevention of wrongful and unlawful discrimination." Hoyer concluded, "Passage of this legislation is critical to helping us achieve the ADA's promise - and creating a society in which Americans with disabilities can realize their potential."
I do want to mention that the only reason the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed was because of the bi-partisan effort at that time. One reason we gained that momentum is Justin Dart Jr. Justin, the Godfather of the ADA, worked so hard to bring everyone together. Justin believed in unity and empowerment for all. He brought us all together.
Although we lost Justin, we still have his spirit and leadership to direct us on today. This bill will not get passed without bi-partisan support. Congressmen Hoyer and Sensenbrenner have worked so hard together to bring this bill forward. We need to remember that disability is not a partisan issue. If we make it partisan, we will never, ever, move forward.
We are a group of people who have been left out of the American Dream of employment and freedom. Often, we are left out of affordable housing and transportation. Too, too, many of us are still living in institutions and nursing homes. We need to unite and work together to see the ADA Restoration Act passed.
Keep up with what is happening with the ADA Restoration Act and get involved today. We need everyone with a disability to work together to see our freedom restored. We have a long way to go, but this is one step forward to freedom.
Read more about the ADA Restoration Act at: www.aapd.com and www.epilepsyfoundation.org.
Joyce Bender is President and CEO of Bender Consulting Services. Please direct questions for Joyce to email@example.com.