InsideMS; Summer 2002; Vol. 20, Issue 3
Last February, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled to narrow the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. ADA protects people who have an impairment that “substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.”
The case involved Ella Williams, a former employee of Toyota Motors, who suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome. She claimed she was refused reassignment to a position that would not tax her arms or wrists. Toyota disputed this. Ultimately, the Supreme Court was called on to define “major life activities” to determine if ADA applies to her.
According to the undivided Court, an impairment that prevents a person from performing a specific job does not necessarily qualify as something that “substantially limits one or more of the major life activities.” The Court pointed to activities such as bathing without assistance or brushing one’s teeth as major life activities. Ms. Williams’ job involved making vigorous movements with her arms over her head.
Effects of decision still unclear
Some employers who believe work injuries can be resolved under state workers’ compensation laws applauded the decision. Some disability advocates and labor groups believe the ruling severely limits ADA protections.
The argument between Ms. Williams and Toyota is not over, and the Supreme
Court sent the case back to a lower court. The Society’s Advocacy Department
will monitor this case as well as any potential action in Congress where
the definition of “disability” to be protected by ADA may be debated in
the coming months.
© 2002 The National Multiple Sclerosis Society