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[IP] Disabled Question Court Ruling

What happens now when one gets a clogged infusion set in the middle of work 
and it's "not time for a break?"

Disabled Question Court Ruling

.c The Associated Press


Say you're partly deaf but wear a hearing aid, can you demand a special 
telephone headset at work? If you take blood pressure pills, does your boss 
have to give you a special break to take them? The nation's high court says 

Most people who can correct or compensate for their disabilities - 
epileptics, diabetics, even amputees - aren't protected from discrimination 
under the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to Supreme Court rulings 

Employers, who already win most disability-related lawsuits, applauded the 
decisions as a welcome clarification of the 1990 law best known for requiring 
handicap access ramps in public buildings. But advocates for the disabled 
were appalled.

``It's a horrible catch-22 for people,'' said Kurt Decker, executive director 
of the National Association of Protection and Advocacy Systems, an umbrella 
group for legal agencies representing disabled people.

``If they do correct their disability, they're not covered by the ADA,'' said 
Decker. ``If they don't, they probably can't work. ... This is a very bad 
message to employers.''

The anti-bias law prohibits employers from discriminating against a 
``qualified individual with a disability'' because of that disability.

A qualified person is defined as one who can perform a job when given 
reasonable accommodation, and a disability is defined as condition that 
substantially limits a major life activity. The law also protects people who 
are discriminated against because they are ``regarded as'' having a 

The court's narrow interpretation of disability involved three cases: two 
nearsighted pilots rejected by United Airlines; a mechanic with high blood 
pressure fired by United Parcel Service; and a trucker blind in one eye fired 
by Albertson's grocery stores.

The justices ruled that measures taken to correct an impairment can't be 
ignored in assessing a person's disability. If eyeglasses remedy a vision 
impairment, then the person shouldn't be considered disabled. In contrast, a 
person substantially limited in mobility despite using a wheelchair would be 
regarded as disabled.

Employers, who feared a flood of new lawsuits if the definition of disability 
was widened, were relieved by the rulings. The decisions excluded more than 
100 million Americans with physical impairments from protection under the ADA.

``It didn't make a lot of sense from an employer's perspective to have to 
extend the benefits of this statute to people who are every bit as capable of 
performing a job in their corrected state,'' said Allen Fagin, a New York 
lawyer who represents employers.

But the decisions angered Vaughn Murphy, the Manhattan, Kan., truck mechanic 
with high blood pressure whose case was decided Tuesday.

``Unless you're a quadriplegic in a wheelchair, the ADA doesn't exist for 
you,'' he said in a telephone interview from his home. ``For anybody who has 
physical problems, do we just wipe half the ADA away?''

Glen Arnold, a diabetic dependent on insulin, also fretted when he heard the 
news. He won an appeal in a discrimination case against United Parcel Service 
last year based on the ADA, and the case was later settled.

``I was able to fall back on the ADA for some support and help,'' he said. 
``Where does this leave us if discrimination does happen?''

The Maine lawyer who represented Arnold, Peter Thompson, said Tuesday he 
would have to dismiss discrimination cases of two diabetic clients because of 
the rulings.

A person with high blood pressure or diabetes who needs to take medications 
at times when office breaks aren't allowed now cannot demand this 
accommodation under the law. A diabetic child who needs special permission to 
prick his finger during class now may not get it.

``The point of the ADA was to get people into the mainstream of life and 
allow them to be employed and assume a responsible stance in society,'' said 
John Gresham of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, a nonprofit law 
firm. ``People who have invested substantial effort to do that may lose 

In a fourth decision related to the law, the court ruled that states may be 
required to take mentally disabled people out of hospitals and let them live 
in homelike settings. The decision left both sides of the conflict claiming 

The court said the law requires states to place the mentally disabled in the 
``most integrated setting'' appropriate, but only after ``taking into account 
the resources available to the state and the needs of others with mental 

There was no way to know how many of the 70,000 mentally disabled people 
living in state hospitals nationwide might be affected by the ruling.

AP-NY-06-23-99 0247EDT

 Copyright 1999 The Associated Press.  The information  contained in the AP 
news report may not be published,  broadcast, rewritten or otherwise 
distributed without  prior written authority of The Associated Press. 

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