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A year 'marked by losses,' says National Council on Disability

July 30, 2003 -- The fact that access to the polls was made part of last fall's national voting legislation ranks as one of the highlights of the year for people with disabilities, says the National Council on Disability.

It was the high point in a year otherwise marked by losses.

"A clear intent to weaken the ADA is underway," says Council member Robert R, Davila, which, he says, suggests to many people with disabilities that they "close ranks and increase their vigilance."

In last year's report to Congress, NCD noted "an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty among Americans with disabilities because of the potential or real loss of legal protections. This climate of fear became pervasive in 2002," says the Council, "as a result of the continuing trend of court decisions unfavorable to disability rights and of the federal government's disinclination to include civil rights enforcement for people with disabilities as a major element of the New Freedom Initiative." NCD reports that "when disability rights advocates discuss court decisions today, their focus is primarily on how to prevent or slow further erosion of civil rights."

The NCD report highlights two 2002 Supreme Court cases:

In Toyota v. Williams the justices ruled that Toyota had not violated the law by refusing to accommodate a worker with severe carpal tunnel syndrome. The Supreme Court found that, because the individual could perform routine household tasks at home, she was not substantially limited in the major life activity of working, and, therefore, not protected by the ADA.

In Echazabal v. Chevron the Supreme Court, in deferring to the "direct threat" defense established by EEOC regulations, held that an employer can deny employment to a person with a disability if the employer determines that person might pose a danger to him or herself in the course of the employment.

"The general pattern of these and other Supreme Court decisions strip people with disabilities of the ability to enforce the ADA and other civil rights laws," says NCD. "Faced with the disheartening and deteriorating judicial situation, NCD, in 2002, began a series of policy papers examining the Supreme Court's ADA decisions and their meaning for people with disabilities. This project, Righting the ADA, covers the myriad of issues involved in the Court decisions and setting forth their legal and human implications. The papers explain the background of the ADA and analyze the prospects for reform."

The series of briefswill conclude with a comprehensive report that includes legislative proposals.

Also in the report:

  • Hate Crimes: threats specific to people with disabilities have received far less attention than dangers facing other groups, says NCD

  • Healthcare: the existing reactive system "must be transformed into a proactive system of health and wellness for people with disabilities," it asserts.

  • Genetic discrimination: Congress should act to curb discriminatory use of genetic information in insurance and employment, says the Council

  • Section 504: NCD is concerned about diminished attention to and enforcement of this anti-discrimination section of the Rehabilitation Act.

    Read the report online at

    Mark Quigley, Director of Communications
    National Council on Disability




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