WASHINGTON - People who take medicine to control epilepsy, diabetes, or cancer or who use prosthetic limbs or hearing aids could use the Americans With Disabilities Act to fight workplace discrimination under legislation the House passed yesterday.
Lawmakers said the Supreme Court has limited the ADA's reach since it was signed into law by the first President Bush in 1990. "For some the ADA is failing to live up to its promise," said Representative Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee.
The bill, passed 402 to 17, is designed to bring people back under the ADA's protection. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
The ADA is probably best known for requiring ramps at many public buildings. But it also bans discrimination against the disabled on the job and elsewhere, and obligates employers to make accommodations for disabled workers.
But since 1999, the Supreme Court generally has exempted from the law's protection people with partial physical disabilities as well as people with physical impairments that can be treated with medication or devices such as hearing aids.
"Now what kind of person on the Supreme Court of the United States has some difficulty understanding that if you have to use a hearing aid, that does not lessen the nature of the disability?" said Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
As a result, people with epilepsy, diabetes, cancer, cerebral palsy, and developmental disabilities are in a situation where they would be considered disabled if they did not take medication, but might not qualify for ADA protection if they did, said Representative Betty Sutton, an Ohio Democrat.
"This is completely at odds with the original intent of Congress and the original focus of the ADA," she said.
Lawmakers also modified the ADA to describe a disability as any physical or mental impairment that "materially restricts" a major life activity as a disability. The current wording is "substantially limit," a classification the court said limited the law's scope.
"Today's bill makes it clear that Congress intended the ADA's coverage to be broad and to cover anyone who faces unfair discrimination because of a disability," said Representative James Sensenbrenner, Republican of Wisconsin.
With this bill, the Supreme Court would not have to guess who Congress intended the ADA to cover, said Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the second-ranking Republican.
The White House said it supports the legislation, even though it wants some changes. The Bush administration is working to update ADA regulations and this month proposed an overhaul of public access rules.