Disability Roundup


Just because you or a loved one hasn't been sued yet, that doesn't mean the Americans with Disabilities Act isn't still out there. (See "Unreasonable Accommodation," August/September 1995.)

Some recent developments in ADA law include:

? A war of court cases over architects' responsibilities under the law. In January, a Florida judge decided that the architect of a hockey arena can be sued for designing a building where lines of sight for the disabled just aren't as prime as everyone else's.

But in a July 1996 decision in a Washington, D.C., court, a judge decided that the architect should be liable only if the same individual or firm designed and built the offending building. The Department of Justice agrees with the Florida judge and is pursuing its own lawsuit against Ellerbe Becket, the Minneapolis architectural firm at issue in all three cases.

? An epileptic fired by the Ryder truck company for being a possible safety hazard as a driver sued and won $5.5 million under the ADA; at another job, this person had a seizure while driving and crashed into a tree. This case and similar ones actually inspired The Washington Post to run an article on the safety risks of the ADA, in which disabled-rights activist Chai Feldblum of Georgetown University becomes a born-again convert to cost-benefit analysis, saying that any safety risks that come from forcing businesses to hire someone they think is unfit have to be balanced against the benefits of forcing businesses to hire someone they think is unfit.

? The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has finally issued guidelines to clarify the mental health aspects of the ADA. The guidelines offer specific examples, some of which are more frightening than soothing–like how a disheveled, cursing, mentally ill employee can't be gotten rid of if standards for behavior and appearance aren't absolutely essential to performing the job. But in the end the guidelines, which are not binding on courts, do nothing to solve the essential open-endedness of psychiatric disabilities and the vagueness of such ADA terms as reasonable accommodation and undue burden.