U.S. Senate and House Pass Legislation Expanding Americans With Disabilities Act
Once again, the United States Congress and Senate have passed important legislation that benefits mentally ill Americans. It is apparent that our representatives increasingly recognize the fact that mental illness is just another health condition that must be addressed similarly to other health problems.
In June, the United States Senate overcame partisan politics and voted a veto-proof margin of 69 to 30 to pass the Medicare Mental Health Parity Act (H.R. 6331). Yesterday, members of both parties of the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to support the ADA Amendments Act.
THANK YOU FOR RESPONSIBLE GOVERNMENT, REPRESENTATIVES!
Senate Measure Would Expand Disabilities Act
September 11, 2008
WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The Senate on Thursday approved a major civil rights bill that would expand protections against workplace discrimination for people with disabilities and that would address several Supreme Court rulings that curbed such safeguards in the past decade. The measure, passed on a voice vote and without dissent, is similar to legislation that sailed through the House in June by a vote of 402 to 17. Minor differences between the bills are expected to be resolved quickly and a final version sent to President Bush. The legislation would expand the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, which was signed by Mr. Bush’s father.
Following is an announcement by the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law:
Bazelon Center Praises Bipartisan Bill Reviving ADA Protections
September 18, 2008
The Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law commends members of Congress in both parties for their overwhelming support for the ADA Amendments Act, passed by yesterday's voice vote in the House. The bill, which the President is expected to sign, expands the definition of disability in the Americans with Disabilities Act and makes it easier for people with disabilities to obtain protection against disability-based discrimination.
"Thanks to the hard work of disabilty advocates across the country, Congress has voted to rescue people with psychiatric disabilities from the Catch 22 in which Supreme Court rulings left them -- that when medications reduce their symptoms, however temporarily, many no longer qualified for protection as 'people with disabilities' under the ADA," said Bazelon Center executive director Robert Bernstein. The amended law explicitly rejects the narrow standards used by the court to determine who has a disability.
"Mental health advocates will again be able to use the ADA as an effective tool to secure the protections that help people with psychiatric disabilities participate fully in society," said Jennifer Mathis, the Bazelon Center's deputy legal director. "People with disabilities experience real discrimination and deserve real protections," she added. "Now those who have been denied protection will finally be able to claim them."
Key Collaboration by Disability Advocates and Business Community
Mathis was among several members of a unique team of disability advocates that engaged in intensive negotiations with representatives from the business community over the past year to reach a compromise that became the basis for a legislative fix. The negotiators also worked with a unique coalition of disability, civil rights and business representatives collaborating with a bipartisan group of congressional members and staff to finalize and secure passage of the legislation.
The law as amended will provide important new coverage for individuals with disabilities. The amended ADA:
For text of the Act and supporting letters by key members of the House, visit
- specifically overturns Supreme Court decisions that have caused many people with disabilities whom Congress intended the ADA to cover to lose important protection;
- makes it clear that Congress intended the ADA's coverage to be broad, in contrast to the narrow scope afforded by the courts;
- clarifies that the courts must apply a less demanding standard than they have been using to determine who has a disability;
- ensures that medication and other measures taken to overcome the effects of a person's condition cannot be used to conclude that the person does not have a disability;
- makes it easier for people with episodic impairments to be protected by the ADA;
- provides that in determining whether someone is "substantially limited in a major life activity" and thus disabled, major life activities include major bodily functions, such as brain and neurological functions;
- affords broad coverage for individuals "regarded as" having a disability under the ADA. A person will now be covered under this part of the ADA if he or she is treated adversely based on an actual or perceived impairment, whether or not it limits or is perceived to limit a major life activity.
Good government can resolve the cycle of homelessness, prison, and death that acute mental patients in America have endured for decades, particularly the indigent. Laws such as these make affordable treatment options more readily available to mentally challenged citizens. They not only improve life for mental patients, but these laws also promote a safer society, perhaps helping to avoid episodes of violence by mentally ill citizens, or more often, to mentally ill citizens during arrests and incarceration. These measures may serve to reduce our tax burden if as a result of their enactment, less mental patients are caught in the criminal justice system.
Unfortunately, many acute mental patients will not avail themselves of the available mental health services voluntarily. Some states are responding to this by reducing the stringent criteria for enforced treatment and involuntary hospitalization of patients during crisis.
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? ~ Isaiah 58:6
Assistance to the Incarcerated Mentally Ill
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. ~ Matthew 25:37-40