Restoring the rights of Americans with disabilities

It gives me great pleasure to introduce Denise Rozell, Assistant Vice President of State Government Relations at Easter Seals’ Office of Public Affairs, to our blog community. The following is her report from yesterday’s Senate hearing on the ADA Restoration Act.
— Beth Finke

Restoring the rights of Americans with disabilities
by Denise Rozell

Room 430 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building overflowed with people with disabilities and their advocates for the first Senate hearing on the ADA Restoration Act of 2007 (S.1881). The purpose of the ADA Restoration Act is to restore the original intent of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) – that all people with disabilities should be protected from discrimination under the law.

It was particularly striking for me to have Sen. Tom Harkin (D.–Iowa), the lead cosponsor from the original ADA; former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh, one of the lead negotiators on ADA for the Bush Administration in 1990; John Kemp, a long time disability advocate who was involved in the passage of the ADA; and Chai Feldblum, a lawyer who negotiated the language of the ADA, all say yesterday that what the Supreme Court has done to the definition of disability is not what Congress, the Administration, the disability and the business community agreed to in 1990, and it must be fixed.

The business community witness, of course, disagreed and engaged in a spirited debate on the matter. But for me, she never seemed able to answer the questions:

  • How can what the court is doing be right?
  • How can someone who is an amputee, or has an intellectual disability or has epilepsy not be protected under the law?

While it was a little disappointing to have only two senators show up; part of the purpose of hearings is to “build a record” of why we need the legislation and what Congress and the Administration’s original intent was — and we certainly did that!

Plus, the two senators who were there — Harkin and Sen. Patty Murray (D.–Wash.) — are committed to this struggle. They understand the need for the changes to the ADA from a deeply personal level.

Harkin was the original cosponsor of the bill and had a brother, now deceased, who was deaf. He has talked at length about his commitment to this issue in large part because of his brother and has worked to pass disability legislation throughout his career in Congress.

Murray shared at yesterday’s hearing about her father, who has multiple sclerosis, using a wheelchair during most of her childhood and her commitment to this issue because of him.

I believe it is with this personal understanding and commitment to the civil rights of people with disabilities that will ultimately push through the legislation. You can do your part to support the rights of Americans with disabilities — urge your senator to restore the promise of the ADA!


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