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Senate Passes Act on Disabled

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Washington--The Senate last week overwhelmingly approved a sweeping measure that would prohibit most organizations--including private schools--from discriminating against the nation's 40 million disabled citizens.

The 76-to-8 vote came a little more than a month after Senate leaders and Bush Administration officials had worked out a compromise on the bill, which has been promoted for more than 20 years by groups representing the disabled. (See Education Week, Sept. 6, 1989.)

The final version was amended only slightly during debate on the bill, which lasted late into the night on Sept. 7. Those amendments would extend deadlines for compliance with some provisions, and exclude a wide variety of sexual behaviors and behavioral disorders from its definition of "disabled."

Many Private Schools Covered

Public schools and other agencies that accept federal funds are already barred from discriminating against the handicapped under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. But the bill would for the first time extend many of those same provisions to private organizations that receive no federal aid. Religious schools would not be covered under the measure.

Thus, many private, nonsectarian schools would be prohibited from discriminating against the disabled--including victims of aids--in employment, accommodations, and services.

For example, private schools could be found to discriminate if they failed to hire qualified handicapped job applicants, if they set eligibility standards for students that tended to screen out disabled individuals, or if they failed to make the building accommodations necessary to allow disabled students to attend their institutions.

The bill would set civil penalties of up to $50,000 for initial violations and up to $100,000 for subsequent offenses.

"This really is going to change American society in a very significant way," said Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is the bill's chief sponsor.

Senate aides predict that the bill, titled the "Americans with disabilities act," will be passed quickly by the House. The measure must be cleared first by four subcommittees in that chamber.--dv

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