Weekly House Update for Congressman Roy Blunt
The week of June 30th
American with Disabilities Act Amendments
By Cong. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)
America was created as a land of equality and opportunity. During my time serving in Congress, those are philosophies I have fought to uphold. Each individual deserves the same freedoms and liberties outlined in our Bill of Rights regardless of their circumstances.
In that vein, a Democrat-lead Congress and a Republican President came together in 1990 to create the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in order to ensure that people with disabilities had legal protections and rights. This was important not just for the disabled, but also for employers to have clear guidelines.
However, while both the business and disability communities worked as best they could under the ADA, the law was too broadly written leading to legal wrangling leaving the ultimate authority to interpret the law up to judges. Several Supreme Court decisions limited the ADA’s original intent, while leaving much confusion over how employers and employees should interpret the law. The result was many people the law was intended to help weren’t, while an unscrupulous few took advantage of the law to their own benefit.
That is why I worked in a bipartisan fashion to update and clarify the law – and the protections it extends - once and for all, ensuring clear guidelines for employees and employers alike. And last week, the legislation I supported, the ADA Amendments Act, overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives putting it on a path to becoming law.
What we accomplished is the balance that was the intent of the original ADA, while avoiding the potential unintended consequences that have regrettably occurred because of the actions and interpretations of the courts. For example, the bill I supported specifically defines an individual with a disability as one who is "substantially limited in a major life activity," a distinction that was not included in earlier forms of the legislation. It also clarifies the definition of "disability" to help ensure that those truly in need of the protections in the bill receive them – and prevent some from abusing this law.
Regrettably, there were people who were disabled enough to not get a job, but not disabled enough to gain protection under the original ADA. They fell into a purgatory of having no understanding of what their status was – or how they could reasonably take action. We corrected that in this bill – there are much clearer guidelines now so truly disabled people no longer live in a purgatory of legal confusion.
Our guiding principle was to provide the necessary equality and fairness to everyone involved. Furthermore, we clarified requirements and obligations of employers, so they have protections against frivolous lawsuits as well. We ensured that the burden of proof in discrimination cases rest with the plaintiff – and not with the defendant. This is a reasonable standard that business groups wholeheartedly supported.
The benefits this legislation gives to both employees and disability groups is a testimony to the cooperation between both groups and civil rights advocates. This collaboration allowed the bill to pass overwhelmingly with the support.
But the ADA Amendments Act is not just notable in its promotion of equality, or its foundation built upon bipartisan compromise, but rather in its capacity to enable those with disabilities to truly become the productive members of society. No one with a disability wants to be treated "differently" that those with out disabilities, and with this law, a whole segment of our society will finally be able to fulfill their true potential without the discrimination and uncertainty that has hung over them for far too long.