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Bill for the Disabled Called 'Crusade for Civil Rights'

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WASHINGTON--Saying they are launching a new "crusade for civil rights,'' a group of lawmakers has introduced in the Congress a measure that seeks to expand existing law to bar all forms of discrimination against the handicapped.

The "Americans with disabilities act of 1988'' would afford the handicapped some of the same federal protections now provided to women and minorities through the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The proposed legislation would bar discrimination against the disabled in a broad range of areas, including education, employment, housing, public accommodations, transportation, communication, and recreation.

The proposal would, for example, require television networks to provide captioning for advertisements and programs. It would force public and private transportation services to make their vehicles accessible to the handicapped. And it would require newly constructed multi-family housing units to have common areas that meet the needs of the disabled.

School districts and other recipients of federal funds already are prohibited from discriminating against the handicapped under Title V of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

But that law "addresses only a few areas in which discrimination occurs,'' according to Senator Lowell P. Weicker Jr., Republican of Connecticut and a sponsor of the bill. He said the proposed measure would expand those prohibitions to almost all other facets of society--both public and private.

"As a society, we have treated people with disabilities as inferiors and have made them unwelcome in many activities and opportunities generally available to other Americans,'' he said.

The bill is also being sponsored in the Senate by Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa.

In the House, the bill's sponsors are: Representative Tony Coelho, Democrat of California; Representative Major R. Owens, Democrat of New York; and Representative Silvio O. Conte, Republican of Massachusetts.

Hearings on the bill have not yet been scheduled. But aides to several of its sponsors said they did not expect the measure to be voted on before the Congress adjourns this summer. --DV

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