Harkin, Hatch Measure Fulfilling Promise of Americans with Disabilities Act Passes Senate Unanimously

Legislation responds to Supreme Court decisions that narrowed the definition of disability

September 13, 2008

United States Senate, Washington, DC


Contact: Jennifer Mullin (Harkin) 202-224-3254

Mark Eddington (Hatch) 202-224-5251


Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) today announced that the Senate had approved by unanimous consent a bill that would clarify the law's intent and ensure that all Americans with disabilities are protected from discrimination. The bill will need to be acted upon by the House of Representatives before being sent to the President's desk.

The Senate bill is similar to bipartisan legislation introduced in the House by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner that passed by a 402-17 margin this summer.

Considered to be one of the landmark civil rights laws of the 20th century, the ADA was designed to protect any individual who is discriminated against on the basis of disability. The law was passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush.

Since the ADA became law, a series of court decisions have narrowed the category of who qualifies as an "individual with a disability," contrary to Congressional intent. By raising the threshold for an impairment to qualify as a disability, these court decisions have deprived individuals of the discrimination protections Congress intended to provide.

The ADA Amendments Act would remedy this problem and restore workplace protections to every American with a disability. The bill leaves the ADA's familiar disability definition intact, but takes several specific steps to direct courts toward a more generous meaning and application of the definition. The legislation would make it easier for people with disabilities to be covered by the ADA because it effectively expands the definition of disability to include many more major life activities, as well as a new category of major bodily functions.

"With today's vote, we have restored the promise of the ADA which was signed into law 18 years ago," said Harkin, the chief author of the original ADA. "The protections afforded under this historic law have been eroded and the result is that people with serious conditions like epilepsy or diabetes could be forced to choose between treating their conditions and forfeiting their protections under the law. That is not what Congress intended when we passed the law, and this bill is the right fix."

"This is a historic day," said Hatch. "This bill continues our ongoing effort to expand opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in the American Dream. Passage of the ADA Amendments Act ensures that the Americans with Disabilities Act will continue to help change lives. I'm proud to have worked with my good friend Tom Harkin in crafting this monumental bill that enjoys such strong bipartisan support."

The ADA Amendments Act enjoys strong support by advocacy groups, including most national disability organizations, 23 major veterans organizations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Society for Human Resource Management, and the Human Resources Policy Association.