Americans with Disabilities Act Expanded to Vets

THEORY TO PRACTICE, ISSUE NO. 1, FALL '09

A revamped Americans with Disabilities Act may further complicate special education law — signaling a marked increase in litigation across America.

Dr. Perry ZirkelWhen president George W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments las November, civil rights activists heralded the move. Designed to restore the original intent of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the bipartisan piece of legislation was crafted, in part, to expand coverage and extend benefits to veteran soldiers returning from war-torn Afghanistan and Iraq. 

But despite the fanfare with which they were received, few understood the reach of the amendments. And that is discomforting to Perry Zirkel, university professor of education and law. 

Zirkel, who is author of the two-volume referenced Section 504, the ADA, and the Schools, has served for 20 years on the special education hearing appeals panel for Pennsylvania. He believes the ADAA will most likely result in a spike in litigation as schools and parents battle over not only eligibility requirements, but also newly requested “reasonable” accommodations and services. 

The law mandates that the definition of “substantial limitation” become more inclusive, while expanding the scope of disabilities to include such “major life activities” as concentrating, thinking, reading, eating, sleeping, and bowel functions. "Make no mistake about it: in a country that already suffers from ‘hyper-lexis,’ or too much law, the legislation presents significant challenges for both the general and special education legal communities,” says Zirkel.