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ADA Expansion Possible

Employers should be aware that Congressional lawmakers are considering expansion of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in several areas. One bill in Congress, entitled the "ADA Restoration Act" (H.R. 3195), would expand the protections of the ADA to more employees. Also, new rules from the U.S. Department of Justice may be issued which would expand the ADA's public accommodation provisions for those who visit businesses.

Currently, the ADA protects individuals who have medical conditions that substantially limit a major life activity, with or without the use of corrective measures (such as medication). The ADA Restoration Act would drop this qualifier, and apply the ADA to all physical or mental impairments, even when controlled by medication, treatment or other aids (such as contact lenses). The ADA Restoration Act would require that "determination of whether an individual has a physical or mental impairment be made without considering the impact of any mitigating measures the individual may be using or whether any manifestations of an impairment are episodic, in remission, or latent." This would likely add tens of millions more individuals to the class of individuals having a legally-protected "disability".

Employers cannot safely assume that President Bush would veto such legislation. The original ADA was signed by President Bush's father, George Herbert Walker Bush. Some observers doubt that the current President Bush will veto expansion of the law that has become part of his father's legacy.

In addition, businesses that are open to the public should be aware that the U.S. Justice Department is considering rules expanding access to those with disabilities. These regulations might, among other things, require lower light switches, larger bathroom stalls, increased van parking access, and more-accessible sales counters. Many businesses have modified their facilities to comply with the current access rules. New rules may require yet additional costly modifications.

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