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Attorneys Offer Tips on Adapting to ADA Changes

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

OKLAHOMA CITY - If an applicant with attention-deficit disorder asks for a quiet place to fill out an application for employment, does a business have to furnish it? Is an employee who uses a corrective device, such as hearing aids, considered disabled?

The Americans with Disabilities Act went into effect in 1992. But a series of court cases in the 1990s resulted in such a narrow definition of disabled that a majority of claims made under the act were denied. Advocates for the disabled fought in Congress for a decade to get the law changed.

Under the new provision of the law, which went into effect Thursday, the definition of disability has been broadened to include any impairment that substantially limits a person's major life activities. The revised ADA has a comprehensive list of major life activities that includes caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, eating, sleeping, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working. Bodily functions, including those of the immune system, cell growth, digestive functions, reproductive functions, and neurological and brain functions, may also apply. The changes to the ADA eliminate consideration of the effect of medication, prosthetics and hearing aids, though the use of glasses and contacts to improve vision is not included.

Tulsa law firm Titus Hillus Reynolds Love Dickman and McCalmon posted a question on the firm's Web site asking, "Do you believe the new ADA will increase ADA litigation?' One hundred percent of respondents answered yes.
"I wouldn't necessarily say employers should worry about the new ADA," said attorney Stephanie Johnson Manning. "It could increase litigation. It creates a few more obligations for employers, as there are more people who may request an accommodation."

Employers should review existing discrimination policies, employee handbooks, job descriptions and application forms to ensure they comply with the new law, the firm recommends.

Employers who are concerned over how to comply with the latest changes to the ADA will have a few opportunities in the upcoming weeks to learn about the new law and its effect on their business and hiring practices.

On Jan. 15, Oklahoma City attorney Bill Wells will conduct a free seminar hosted by The State Chamber. Crossfire: Navigating the New FMLA, the New ADA and Oklahoma's Workers' Compensation Act is a three-hour program that will be held at the State Chamber offices.

"I have geared this seminar to Oklahoma employers," Wells said. "While many Oklahoma employers recognize the need to evaluate the interaction and application of the (Family and Medical Leave Act), the ADA and/or OWCA to any given leave situation, many Oklahoma employers unintentionally miss the connection. This seminar will serve to equip Oklahoma employers with the tools to comply with the new changes while tying these laws together in a manner to limit - if not eliminate - litigation exposure."


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