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Proposed legislation would change current federal disability laws

People with disabilities have rights that help prevent workplace discrimination, thanks in large part to two laws — the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. The Rehabilitation Act may be the lesser known of these two. According to the ADA website, it "prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs conducted by Federal agencies, in programs receiving Federal financial assistance, in Federal employment, and in the employment practices of Federal contractors."

Now, some members of Congress are seeking to change the Rehabilitation Act in a way that would impact both laws. The proposed legislation, called "Workplace Choice and Flexibility for Individuals with Disabilities Act" ( H.R. 5658). Its sponsors, with one exception, are Republicans.

A key modification to the current laws involves a redefinition of the term "competitive integrated employment." CIE guarantees employees with disabilities the right to work alongside their colleagues in the same workspace and be paid the equivalent of others performing the same job.

The proposed legislation would require only that disabled employees not be segregated in "social and interpersonal interactions with colleagues, vendors, customers, superiors, or other[s]…." It would also change the definition of CIE to include non-competitive jobs.

Many advocates for the rights of disabled workers say the bill does nothing to help these workers. Instead, as one group called ADAPT contends, the legislation would "put money in the pockets of providers and businesses that profit off exploitation and segregation of the Disability Community."

The group noted that H.R. 5658 "resurrects walls of exclusion by segregating people with disabilities both socially and economically…." A representative of that group asserts, "Contrary to its name, this bill is neither about choice or flexibility for people with disabilities….[but] "is doublespeak intended to mislead the public and Congress about a bill that will only limit the choices of disabled people and further our segregation."

While this proposed legislation is a long way from becoming a law, it's essential for people with disabilities to know their rights in the workplace under federal and California laws. If you believe that you've been a victim of such discrimination, a California attorney experienced with employment discrimination law can provide valuable information and advice and help you protect your rights in the workplace.

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