SHOW: THE FLIPSIDE 11:00 AM Eastern Standard Time


January 13, 2004 Tuesday


Transcript # 011301cb.l32


SECTION: Business


LENGTH: 1462 words


HEADLINE: The Disabilities Act: Supreme Court To Hear Discrimination Cases, CNNfn


GUESTS: Lex Frieden


BYLINE: Gerri Willis, Mary Snow, JJ Ramberg



GERRI WILLIS, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: Today the Supreme Court takes up the issue of state's rights versus the rights of the disabled. The hearing centers on a case involving the state of Tennessee, which has been charged by three plaintiffs with discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Joining us now from Houston to discuss both the act and whether we're making progress in equal access for the disabled is Lex Frieden. He's the chairman of the National Council on Disability.


Lex welcome to THE FLIPSIDE.


LEX FRIEDEN, CHAIRMAN, NATL. COUNCIL ON DISABILITY: Thank you, I'm happy to be here with you today.


WILLIS: Now, I don't know; but other people may be finding this story just a little bit confusing. Because we have all heard of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was put in place, a long time ago, 14 years ago. And I'm wondering what is the state of that act today? Is it under siege? Does this case from Tennessee tell us that something is going wrong with the enforcement of this act?


FRIEDEN: No, actually in my opinion, the Americans with Disabilities Act has had a profound impact on our whole society and particularly on people with disabilities. We have more people with disabilities working in this country now than any point in history. That's largely because of the non-discrimination provisions in the act. And more of us have more access to the broader society.


We can spend our money virtually anywhere, in any theater, any restaurant, any shop. The act is being enforced by the Justice Department, by the EEOC and by other appropriate agencies. So, I think the act is moving along. I think we're stuck today, with a question from Tennessee about their sovereignty.


MARY SNOW, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: Let's talk a little bit about this case in Tennessee. The Supreme Court is hearing it. A lot of attention paid to it, what's at stake?


FRIEDEN: What's at stake, in general is if Tennessee prevails here, it will mean that people with disabilities who have a complaint, or a right of action cause under the ADA will be prevented from seeking damages under Title 2 of the act. Which really takes away some of the leverage that we as people with disabilities have in terms of seeking justice.


J.J. RAMBERG, CNNfn ANCHOR, THE FLIPSIDE: Can you tell me a little bit about the complaints that people have that they're arguing in this case? They're three defendants, is that correct? I mean prosecuting.


FRIEDEN: There are three individuals who are involved in the case. I think the most interesting one is the case of the individual who was called to court to defend himself. Arrived at the courthouse, found himself facing 48 steps. Then was called by the judge to be in contempt because he didn't arrive at the proper time in the courthouse. I think it's a little absurd.


Of course, he had the right to be there to defend himself. I don't think anybody can argue against that. Why the county in this case had not provided access to people with disabilities long ago, it's hard for me to understand that.


WILLIS: Lex, this case actually is sort of astonishing in its details, because the fellow bringing part of the suit, at least, actually crawled up some of these stairs. On his own, despite the fact some of the courthouse workers there said they offered to carry him. Sort of astonishing in its details, and yet you say that on the balance, on the whole, Americans with Disabilities Act is having an impact, it is being observed.


Are there other states in the union, other than Tennessee, that are making this kind of case? And also, I'm wondering, is there any debate over the costs of implementing this act. Because clearly, if you're going to put an elevator in an old building, there's going to be some costs associated with that.


FRIEDEN: Well, you've asked a lot of questions. I think this case typifies the process of adjudication, when it comes to these sweeping laws, in the sense that here, Tennessee and a number of other states, I think, would be with Tennessee in questioning whether the federal law has the coverage over their state. Whether the federal law trumps in effect the state's rights to manage its own business.


And that applies not only to ADA but a lot of other legislation. I think the court will probably consider that question almost independently of the question of whether this individual or the plaintiff's rights have been violated in the case. So that's one issue.


You ask about costs. Costs of compliance for the ADA have been minimal. In this particular case, I haven't looked at the courthouse in Tennessee that's in question, but I can't imagine it would be an exorbitant amount of money to either outfit it with an elevator, or a ramp. Again, why it hasn't been done before now? It's hard for me to understand.


WILLIS: Right, well you know, whether you agree with us, whether you think that state's rights are more important than following the federal law give us a call. We want to hear from you, 1-800-304-3638. Send us an e-mail get in on the debate.


SNOW: Let's take a look at the big picture. In terms of how far the country's come since the Americans with Disabilities Act was first put into place in 1990. How far have we come?


FRIEDEN: Let me give you an example in terms of real dollars. At this point in time, the population of people with disabilities in the United States numbers about 54 million. And that segment of the population generates about a trillion dollars in income, nearly a quarter of which is disposable income. So people with disabilities in the U.S. now are spending about $222 billion a year.


Investing that in our commerce, investing that in our economy. Making choices about where to spend their money. Before the ADA, before all of these places were generally accessible, people with disabilities didn't have the opportunity to generate that kind of disposable income, and obviously, they didn't have places to spend it.


So I think we've had a profound effect on the economy. Look again at transportation. Before the ADA, roughly 15 percent of the public transit vehicles in the United States were accessible to people with mobility impairments. Today that number exceeds 85 percent. I can go to virtually any city in the United States and get from point A to point B, and 15 years ago I couldn't do that.


RAMBERG: Wow. We talked a lot about the progress that we have made. Where do we need to go? Are there any particular areas that your organization is looking at that we really need to take action in?


FRIEDEN: We're pre-occupied today, a little bit, with this Supreme Court case in Lane vs. Tennessee. And it's all about access to a courthouse. The big picture really involves employment of people with disabilities, I believe. We have a group of people who are educated, who are eager to work, who want to generate more income than they might receive from benefits that they're eligible for.


And many of those people are not able to find jobs. We can speculate on the reasons for that. Fifteen years ago, before the ADA, I'm certain that there was some discrimination involved. Today, I'm not as willing to make that judgment, although it could be discrimination in employment. A very subtle kind of judgment may be made by employers about whether people with impairments actually can do work in the workplace despite the fact that their abilities exceed their inabilities in virtually every case.


So, I think employment is one of the great challenges that lie before us. I also think health care and rehabilitation for people with disabilities has been lost in the current debate about health care reform. I think there are issues pertaining to personal assistance services for those of us who need some help in the home. We don't have an infrastructure in this country that can provide with us that needed assistance.


As the population ages, in 2020 we'll have 75 million people over the age of 55. Many of them will, by the natural course of aging, become disabled. We have to solve these problems, look ahead and begin to address the issue of infrastructure for care for people in their homes as opposed to institutional care which is mainly that available today.


WILLIS: Lex, quickly we don't have a lot of time left. But if you can tell me the one thing that needs to happen in this country to help people with disabilities, what would it be?


FRIEDEN: Jobs, jobs, jobs.


WILLIS: And that's -- that is indeed a high hurdle. Lex, thanks so much for that. We appreciate having you on the show.


FRIEDEN: It's been a pleasure for me. Thanks for covering this issue.




LOAD-DATE: January 13, 2004