NAICU Washington Update

House Passes ADA Restoration Act

The U. S. House of Representatives has passed the Americans with Disabilities Act Restoration Act of 2007 (H. R. 3195). The bill passed with strong bipartisan support, by a vote of 402 to 17, on June 25. Introduced by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), the bill clarifies the definition of disability, reversing several U. S. Supreme Court rulings that disability advocates claim have left some with disabilities unprotected (see WIR, 6/12/08). Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in his opening statement that "today we make it absolutely clear that the Americans with Disabilities Act protects anyone who faces discrimination on the basis of a disability."

While ADA is considered an employment and civil rights law, colleges and universities must comply with it not only in their role as employers, but as providers of education as well. The House Committee on Education and Labor report does includes language reaffirming current law, that the bill is not intended to change college and university standards:

"Additionally, the Committee intends that the bill will not change the principle that entities, including institutions of higher education, need not make modifications to policies, practices or procedures that would fundamentally alter the nature of programs or services, as is true under current law. For example, a university would not be expected to eliminate academic requirements essential to the instruction being pursued by a student, although it may be required to make modifications in order to enable students with disabilities to meet those academic requirements. Current regulations provide that ‘Modifications may include changes in the length of time permitted for the completion of degree requirements, substitution of specific courses required for the completion of degree requirements, and adaptation of the manner in which specific courses are conducted.'" (

During floor debate, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) noted that people had gotten caught in "the Supreme Court's Catch-22 of being discriminated against because of a disability, but not ‘disabled enough' to be protected under the ADA," as it was being interpreted. He assured that the new language "would not cover people with a common cold, stomach ache, or hang nail," but should cover individuals with, for example, epilepsy, diabetes, and cancer.

Sensenbrenner observed that the bill is "not one-sided, but that it is fair and workable for employers," as well as beneficial to individuals. He said this legislation is a "fine example of our checks and balances process, which works for the people." Business groups, disability advocates and civil rights advocates all worked together to craft the language with the education and judiciary committee staff.

The next step is for the Senate to vote on its companion legislation, S. 1881, introduced by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.), and Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

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