Meeting of June 17, 2009 - Proposed Rulemaking Implementing the ADA Amendments Act of 2008
In 1964, Congress passed legislation making it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, and religion. People with disabilities were left unprotected when America took this giant step forward. It was nine years later, in 1973, that Congress passed the Rehabilitation Act, finally extending protections against discrimination in employment to individuals with disabilities. But that Act only applied to the Federal government and entities that took federal money. That left millions of Americans still unprotected.
People with disabilities waited another 17 years before Congress finally extended civil rights to all of us, through the passage of the ADA. That great victory, however, was short lived. What we thought was a giant leap turned out to be rather a small step in the continuous struggle for equal protection under the law. Since 1990, we have watched the courts chip away at what it means to be a person with a disability. Instead of focusing on whether an employer’s actions were illegally motivated by the fact that their employee had a disability, the courts have spent the last 19 years forcing people with disabilities like epilepsy and diabetes, or psychiatric disabilities to prove that they are, in fact, disabled or disabled enough to be covered by the ADA.
This long fight for civil rights for people with disabilities has now reached another milestone. Congress recognized that the intent of the ADA was being misread, that its goals were being compromised, and that action had to be taken. The purpose of the ADA Amendments Act is clear and straightforward and these regulations reflect that.
Our Office of Legal Counsel has worked long and tirelessly to craft these regulations. I commend our staff for their obvious dedication to this issue. You have worked tirelessly and I truly appreciate what you have done.
These regulations will shift the focus of the courts away from further narrowing the definition of disability, and put it back where Congress intended when the ADA was enacted in 1990. Courts should now focus on whether discrimination based on disability is occurring in the workplace. The protections afforded by the Amendments Act and these new regulations are important for all workers, including our returning wounded warriors who certainly deserve the right to re-enter a workforce free of discrimination. Even for our veterans, this has not been easy, especially those warriors with the invisible wounds.
I feel a profound sense of obligation and a duty to ensure that the regulations that we put forth are the very best they can be. I look forward to the comments we will get from all possible stakeholders, as they will only serve to make these regulations stronger in the end. But for today, they should reflect our best thinking, and more importantly, the clear intent of Congress. I am proud to say that these regulations do exactly that.
When we vote on these regulations as a final rule, I believe people with disabilities can finally look forward to spending most of their time in the work place, and not in a courthouse.