Job Rights Voted for Disabled : Law Would Guarantee Them Access
The House voted 403 to 20 today for landmark legislation prohibiting discrimination against America’s 43 million physically and mentally disabled people.
The Americans with Disabilities Act goes to House and Senate negotiators after the Memorial Day recess to work out the one major difference in the two versions.
The difference is a House amendment, passed 199-187 last week, to let employers reassign AIDS-infected workers to keep them from handling food.
Opponents say the amendment would allow discrimination against one group of people despite overwhelming medical evidence that AIDS is not transmitted through such casual contact.
President Bush has urged speedy passage of the bill, aimed at doing for disabled Americans what the Civil Rights Act of 1964 set out to do for blacks and other minorities: guarantee access to jobs, businesses, services, transportation and telecommunications.
Prior to passage, the House voted 227-192 to defeat an amendment limiting the remedies disabled workers could seek from employers who willfully discriminate. The White House supported that amendment.
Among key provisions of the bill:
- Discrimination in hiring and on the job would be prohibited. The requirement would be phased in over two to four years, depending on the size of the company. Companies with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt.
- Hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, drug stores, and business and professional offices, along with any other “public accommodation,” would have to make themselves accessible to disabled people. Accessibility includes structural adjustments, such as wheelchair ramps and widened doors, and services.
- Transportation, public and private, would have to be made accessible. Fixed-route bus systems would have to be accessible for people with wheelchairs. Special facilities would be available for people with other disabilities who cannot use regular transit. Amtrak, Greyhound and commuter rail systems are covered. Timetables for implementation vary according to system.
- People with speech and hearing impairments would have access to telephone service by means of relay services. These services would have to be provided by phone companies within three years.
“This is a significant and historical step forward for the disabled,” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.
The legislation builds on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which does not address the disabled, and the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, which does not specifically deal with public accommodations, private sector employment and programs not receiving federal money.
The House rejected, 192-227, an attempt by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. ( R-Wis.) to limit the legal remedies for victims of job discrimination to those now available under the Civil Rights Act. These include getting a court-ordered injunction against bias and the awarding of back pay and attorneys’ fees.
The bill allows disabled victims of discrimination to take advantage of whatever is provided in the pending Civil Rights Act of 1990. Under consideration is a proposal to allow monetary damages.