On Thursday, President Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act, which will take effect January 1, 2009. The legislation, which greatly broadens protection against employment discrimination for workers who have disabilities or who are regarded as having disabilities, passed the Senate unanimously and the House by voice vote. Disability rights organizations negotiated with the business community for several months on the details of the act and eventually reached an agreement that had widespread support.
The definition of disability in the ADA, which had been narrowed by a series of extremely restrictive Supreme Court decisions until it protected very few workers, now specifically provides that "mitigating measures" such as medication or assistive technology are not to be considered in determining whether a person has a disability. Anyone can now assert a claim of discrimination based on being regarded as disabled, without having to prove that he or she actually has a disability. In addition, the courts have been directed to interpret the legislation liberally in favor of workers.
Although the passage of the ADA Amendments Act received very little national media coverage, it is a very significant piece of civil rights legislation that will provide meaningful recourse for Americans confronting disability discrimination in the workplace.