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Congress Broadens Obligations Under The Americans With Disabilities Act

Through H.R. 3195, our 110th Congress has vastly expanded the reach of the Americans with Disabilities Act, by effectively bringing within its reach a large number of individuals previously excluded under the current  jurisprudence interpreting the Act. The Act still maintains its primary definition as to who is included thereunder (those with “a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities” or those “regarded as disabled”), but calls for an expansion of what it means to “substantially limit,” what constitutes a “major life activity,” and  what it means to “be regarded as disabled.” 

Moreover, the new legislation explicitly reverses  the Supreme Court’s narrow interpretation of the Act, which previously foreclosed those who could control their conditions through the use of medication, physical or other aids. Now, even though such persons might function as well as a non-disabled individual, they will be covered by the Act. 

The new legislation will take effect on January 1, 2009. Congress has called upon the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the administrative agency tasked with interpreting the Act, to revise its regulations. Such revisions are expected to be forthcoming. This new legislation and its forthcoming regulations will have the effect of reversing nearly two decades of judicial decisions that moderated the impact of the Act upon employers. Accordingly, employers will likely encounter more demands for accommodation and will likely see a rise in the number of claims brought for violation of the Act, as the number of potential claimants grows exponentially.