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PRESS RELEASE
10-20-09

EEOC to Hold Listening Session Oct. 26 in Oakland To Advance Hiring of Workers with Disabilities

Town Hall Forum Allows Public to Comment Directly on Proposed Regulations

SAN FRANCISCO – Top officials of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Civil Rights (DOJ), will jointly hold a town hall listening session to draw public input on new federal regulations and procedures to promote the hiring of people with disabilities. The forum, the first of four in major cities nationwide, will run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26 at the Greater Bay Area Regional Office, 1111 Broadway, 7th floor, Oakland, Calif.

The EEOC-DOJ listening sessions are part of a series of national initiatives by the Obama Administration to ensure fair and equal access to employment for all Americans, particularly the 54 million people in this country living with disabilities. The sessions provide direct input from the business/employer communities as well as the disability and disability advocacy community on proposed regulations in the recently enacted Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act.

"The EEOC continues pressing to empower individuals with disabilities to participate to the fullest extent possible in the American workplace," said Acting EEOC Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. "We're pleased to hold listening sessions around the country in conjunction with the Department of Justice and to play a lead role in the Administration's initiative."

Acting EEOC Vice Chair Christine M. Griffin said, “For too long, Americans with disabilities have been pushed to the rear of the hiring line. The EEOC-DOJ town hall listening sessions, in concert with other Administration measures, should position workers with disabilities for a fair chance at a federal job.”

Commissioner Constance Barker said, "I strongly support the Town Hall concept and hope this will be the beginning of similar initiatives by the EEOC to increase transparency and opportunities for public input."

Acting Chairman Ishimaru, Acting Vice Chair Griffin and Commissioner Barker will preside at the Oakland forum, along with DOJ’s Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Samuel Bagenstos, Counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights, Mazen Baswari, and Chief of the Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division, John Wodatch.

Five-minute time slots to address the panel will be available from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., some on an advance registration basis and some on first-come, first-served sign up basis at the event. Members of the public are also invited to attend and view the proceedings, with space available on a first-come, first-served basis. Those wishing to register as a speaker should contact Linda Li at 415-625-5618 (TTY 415-625-5610) or Linda.Li@eeoc.gov. Speakers are also invited to submit written statements, either at the event or on-line at www.regulations.gov. Sign Language Interpreters, CART, and assistive listening devices will be available. Persons requiring printed materials in an alternative format should email Elisa.gonzalez.ctr@tma.osd.mil, noting specific needs and the location (city) of the event they will attend.

The listening sessions follow EEOC action last month to approve a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that implements the amendments to the ADA. On Sept. 16, the EEOC approved a revision to its regulations providing that an individual seeking protection under the ADA establish that he or she has a disability consistent with the original, expansive intent of Congress when it enacted the statute in 1990. The amendments provide increased opportunity for persons with disabilities by returning the ADA to the broad and strong civil rights statute that Congress originally intended. The NPRM carries a 60-day period for public comment.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title I of the ADA, which prohibits employment discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The statute requires employers to make reasonable accommodations to employees and job applicants with disabilities – defined as people with mental or physical impairments that substantially limit a major life activity, persons with a record of a disability, or who, while not actually disabled, are regarded as disabled.

The ADA Amendments Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, 2009, states that Congress expects the EEOC to revise its regulations to conform to changes made by the Act, and expressly authorizes the EEOC to do so.

Consistent with the ADAAA, the NPRM emphasizes that the definition of disability -- an impairment that poses a substantial limitation in a major life activity -- must be construed in favor of broad coverage of individuals to the maximum extent permitted by the terms of the ADA, and should not require extensive analysis; that major life activities include “major bodily functions”; that mitigating measures, such as medications and devices that people use to reduce or eliminate the effects of an impairment, are not to be considered when determining whether someone has a disability; and that impairments that are episodic or in remission, such as epilepsy, cancer, and many kinds of psychiatric impairments, are disabilities if they would “substantially limit” major life activities when active. The regulation also provides a more straightforward way of demonstrating a substantial limitation in the major life activity of working, and implements the ADAAA’s new standard for determining whether someone is “regarded as” having a disability.

The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the listening sessions and the EEOC is available on the agency’s web site at www.eeoc.gov.