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Monday, September 22, 2008

ADA Restoration Act

Few people noticed but last week Congress passed an important civil rights bill. The bill, the ADA Amendments Act, passed by the House and Senate, will theoretically restore the rights of disabled people. The key word here is theoretically. You see I was naive enough to think that the ADA signed into law in 1990, was supposed to protect my civil rights as a disabled person. The Supreme Court, however, had a radically different interpretation of the law. Since 1999 the Supreme Court did its level best to narrow the ADA and they were exceedingly successful.

Today, I see the ADA Restoration Act much differently. Part of this change is due to being disillusioned with the way in which the Supreme Court narrowed the ADA. In 1990 I was a true believer--I truly thought the ADA was comparable to Civil Rights laws passed in the 1960s and 1970s. My disillusionment has led me to joke with my friends that what modern medicine could not do, cure my paralysis, the Supreme Court did with their pen. I was no longer disabled! As interpreted by the Supreme Court disabled people needed to prove they were disabled and it was possible to be too disabled or not disabled enough in the eyes of the court. The Catch 22 situation was unique in the annals of civil rights legislation as was the fact 97% of plaintiffs lost employment related cases under the ADA. Within the world of ideas the Supreme Court was correct. If I can hike in the woods, kayak on the Hudson River, ski in Vermont, work, and have a family am I really disabled? In many ways, the answer to that question is a resounding no. But that no is based on how I perceive myself--and I am as the slogan goes "Disabled and Proud". The rest of society, those that walk on two feet, see me in much different light. This is where I think the Supreme Court lost its way. My disability does not prevent me from doing anything I want and I lead a rich and full life. Given this, the problems I encounter are not physical but social. This is what the ADA was supposed to be about: the removal, prevention, and elimination of needless unlawful discrimination. Instead, the Supreme Court got bogged down in who was and who was not disabled. The ADA Restoration Act seeks to redress this imbalance and as such is a stinging indictment of the dead end the Supreme Court followed.

One last point: do not believe the myth perpetuated in the news that ADA Restoration Act was passed because of the cooperation of business groups, disability rights organizations, and law makers. The ADA Restoration Act was passed in spite of big business. If I have learned one thing using a wheelchair the last 30 years it is that my presence is rarely if ever welcomed. Hopefully, the ADA Restoration Act will change this but for now I will continue to fight for my cvil rights others do not want to acknowledge or respect.

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