Important Anti-Discrimination Bill for People with Disabilities Enacted

July 26, 2000 12:00 am

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RHODE ISLAND — Garnering high-praise from the American Civil Liberties Union, the General Assembly of Rhode Island today enacted a new law to protect its disabled citizens from last years’ Supreme Court decision that limited the effectiveness of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Last year’s court decision created a gaping loophole in anti-discrimination laws designed to protect people with disabilities,” said ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown.

“Rhode Island should be proud of its prompt response to that decision and its commitment to the principle that employees should be judged on their abilities, not stereotypes about their disabilities.”

In a decision last year that stunned the civil rights community, the U.S. Supreme Court held that a person is not “disabled,” and therefore not protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if medication or other corrective devices diminish his or her impairment.

The consequences of this interpretation have been devastating for people with a wide variety of treatable diseases and disabilities, including epilepsy, cancer, diabetes, and mental illnesses that are treated with medication. No longer deemed “disabled” under the Americans with Disabilities Act, they can be subjected to employment discrimination on the basis of those same disabilities, and potentially have no legal recourse.

Because Rhode Island’s Fair Employment Practices Act was largely based on the language of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, the effectiveness of the state’s own act was also in jeopardy, prompting the enactment of this new law.

The new state law, sponsored by Sen. J. Clement Cicilline and Rep. Bambilyn Cambio, prevents such discrimination by specifying that Rhode Island’s anti-discrimination laws do protect people whose disabilities can be “mitigated.”

With this new law, Rhode Island becomes the first state in the country to respond to last years’ U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Nearly two dozen organizations — including the Rhode Island ACLU, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, the Rhode Island Commission on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Rhode Island Council of Community Mental Health Centers — supported the bill, which passed both Houses unanimously.

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