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CIVIL RIGHTS BILL TARGETS AMERICA’S DISABLED
LEGISLATION ADDRESSES MULTITUDE OF ISSUES

SHARE CIVIL RIGHTS BILL TARGETS AMERICA’S DISABLED
LEGISLATION ADDRESSES MULTITUDE OF ISSUES

Congress is on the threshold of enacting one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights legislation ever, addressing one of the nation's largest and disparate minorities: the disabled.

The Americans With Disabilities Act guarantees the nation's 43 million deaf, blind, lame and otherwise infirm people against job discrimination, assuring them access to transportation as well as shopping malls, doctors' offices, restaurants, movies and other public accommodations.An entire section guarantees the nation's 24 million hearing-impaired and 3 million speech-impaired residents access to telephone service.

The legislation also says the 1.5 million Americans infected with the AIDS virus can be treated no differently from anyone with any other illness or disability, such as multiple sclerosis or cancer.

"This is one of the best steps forward that we can take to fight the AIDS epidemic," Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., told fellow senators.

Further, the bill declares that alcoholism and drug addiction are medical problems rather than signs of moral turpitude, protecting people who are trying to overcome their addictions. The bill also extends new protections to those suffering from mental illness, mental retardation and learning disabilities.

Opposition has come primarily from small-business groups worried about the cost and complication of compliance and from a small but vocal group of lawmakers opposed to new legal protection for AIDS victims.

House debate is likely to be heated over the AIDS provisions and the question of precisely how much protection the bill affords victims of the disease.

But with more than 200 sponsors in the House, the support of the Bush administration and backing from more than 200 civil rights and other advocacy groups, the overall bill is likely to pass substantially unchanged.

The Senate passed the measure 76-8 on Sept. 7, and four House committees are going through its provisions before a floor vote likely to send the bill to President Bush for his signature.