The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Amendments Act on September 17, 2008. The House bill is identical to the legislation that the Senate passed unanimously on September 11, 2008 (S. 3406). After the House vote, President Bush stated that he will sign the Act into law.
The Act overturns a number of legal rules that have been at the core of ADA litigation for nearly a decade. Most notably, the Act overturns several Supreme Court decisions that held "mitigating measures," such as medications and artificial limbs, can be taken into consideration when deciding whether someone is disabled under the ADA. The Act specifically instructs courts to disregard such measures when making that determination, with the exception of ordinary eyeglasses and contact lenses. Further, the Act makes it easier for impairments to qualify as disabilities under the ADA by lessening the standard for determining whether an impairment "substantially limits" a major life activity. The Act calls on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to issue new regulations that incorporate the less demanding standard.
The Act will affect how employers address ADA issues in numerous ways. For example, by expanding the number of individuals with qualifying disabilities, the Act increases the number of individuals entitled to ask an employer to accommodate a disability. In addition, the Act shifts the focus of ADA litigation from the threshold issue of whether the individual is disabled under the ADA to the more significant issues of whether disability discrimination actually took place or whether the employer failed to reasonably accommodate the individual's medical condition.
To prepare for these changes, employers should familiarize themselves with the Act, review policies and procedures to determine whether any changes need to be made in light of the Act's requirements, and train supervisors on how to best respond to requests for assistance based on medical condition. Upon signing, the Act will become effective January 1, 2009.