WASHINGTON – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (MD) released the following statement today in honour of the 13th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Rep. Hoyer was the lead House sponsor of the Act, which was signed by the first President Bush:
“Thirteen years ago – on July 26, 1990 – our great nation made a promise to our disabled brothers and sisters that we have a moral obligation to keep. We said no to discrimination. We said no to sanctioned inequality. We said yes to inclusion and equality.
“Today marks the 13th Anniversary of the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the most sweeping civil rights legislation since the Civil Rights Act.
“I am immensely proud to have sponsored this legislation in the House, and was prouder still on the day the first President Bush signed the ADA into law. I’ll never forget it: More than 2,000 advocates for the disabled – some in wheelchairs, some with interpreters, and some with seeing-eye dogs – participated in the signing ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House.
“Justin Dart Jr., a dear friend, a personal hero and a soldier for justice, was there that day. And although it’s been little more than a year since Justin passed, his monumental legacy lives on in part through the ADA, and his tireless effort to enact it.
“This landmark law sent an unmistakable message: It is unacceptable to discriminate against someone simply because they have a disability. Moreover, it is illegal – in employment, in transportation, in public accommodations, and in telecommunications.
“The ADA recognized that the disabled belong to the American family; that a disability need not be disabling. Disabled Americans can share in all our nation has to offer – equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency.
“I never harbored illusions that the ADA would topple centuries of prejudice overnight, or that Congress could legislate acceptance of disabled Americans. But we know that integration can change hearts and change minds.
“Over the last 13 years, the ADA has allowed hundreds of thousands of Americans to join the workforce, attend school, travel, or drive a car – many for the first time in their lives. The ramps, curb cuts, Braille signs, and captioned television programs that were once novel are now ubiquitous.
“However, the first 13 years of the ADA have not been without challenge. Too often, the intent of the ADA has been misconstrued by our courts, which have given it a narrow construction that its authors never intended.
“For example, in 2001, the Supreme Court ruled in University of Alabama v. Garrett that state employees cannot use the ADA to win damages for on-the-job discrimination by state governments.
“In another blow, the Court held last year in Toyota Motor Manufacturing v. Williams that a worker needed to show that her condition not only affected her on the job, but also prevented or restricted her from performing ‘tasks that are of central importance to most people’s daily lives.’
“Because the claimant in Williams had not sufficiently demonstrated how her disability limited her in performed tasks such as brushing her teeth, the Court said, she was not ‘disabled’ under the ADA.
“In fact, people with diabetes, heart conditions, cancer and mental illnesses have had their ADA claims kicked out of court because, with improvements in medication, they are considered ‘too functional’ to be considered ‘disabled.’
“This is clearly not what Congress intended when it passed the ADA and the first President Bush signed it into law. We intended the law to be given a broad construction, not a narrow one.
“Next October, the Court will hear arguments in Tennessee v. Lane, a case in which it will decide whether Congress had the constitutional authority to require states to pay money damages for violations of Title II of the ADA.
“In Lane, the plaintiffs – George Lane and Beverly Jones, both with paraplegia – brought claims against Tennessee for failing to ensure that courthouses are accessible to individuals with disabilities. Lane and Jones were denied access to second-floor courtrooms that lacked elevators. In fact, the state arrested Lane, a defendant in a criminal case, for failure to appear for a hearing when he refused to crawl or be carried up stairs to the second-floor courtroom.
“Together, these decisions represent a dangerous chipping away at the foundation of equality which we poured 13 years ago when the ADA was enacted. And they are a reminder as we commemorate this 13th Anniversary that our work is not done.
“Today, let us renew our commitment to the principles and spirit of the ADA – a law that befits our great nation, which stands for liberty and freedom. Today, let’s commit to keep the promise we made when we enacted the ADA, because while its promise remains unfulfilled, it still is within reach.”