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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
By MAGGIE JACKSON
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
``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
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.
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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