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Congress Is Attempting to Set Disability Rights Back Decades, Why Psychologists Must Speak Out


By Abigail Luke (Intern, APA Public Interest Government Relations Office)

The civil rights of Americans with disabilities, a formerly bipartisan matter, has fallen victim to a divided congress. APA joined the disability rights advocacy community in supporting President George HW Bush’s decision to sign the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law on July 26, 1990. Similar to the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prevention of discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin, the ADA extends these protections to Americans with disabilities. This act garnered support from both sides of the aisle and is seen as a landmark victory for the rights of all Americans living with disabilities.

Twenty-eight years later, policymakers are seeking to undermine the indispensable rights of this community with the proposal of H.R. 620 (The ADA Education and Reform Act). This piece of legislation passed in the House of Representatives in February and will likely be brought up in the Senate.

In February, Congressman James Langevin of Rhode Island, the first individual with quadriplegia to serve in congress, took to the House floor to express his frustration with the ADA Education and Reform Act. Watch his speech below:

Despite its positively worded name, The ADA Education and Reform Act, undermines rather than reforms, the ADA. This bill imposes a 180-day “notice and cure period” on ADA claims which includes establishing a 60-day timeframe for a business owner to acknowledge a complaint, and an additional 120-day period prior to the initiation of legal action. Proponents of the bill assert that the proposed changes to the ADA have no adverse impact on individuals with disabilities, ignoring the fact that a 180-day extension of due process exacerbates the deprivation of civil rights for this population.

The ADA Education and Reform Act puts in place yet another barrier for Americans with disabilities who are guaranteed equal protection under the law. H.R. 620 lengthens the timeframe for complaints to be addressed not just for businesses, but also for schools, offices, and hospitals. It is unjustifiable to deny people with disabilities the same rights afforded to other Americans.

Psychological research shows that there are “…significant deleterious health and mental health effects for victims of discrimination” (e.g., Markowitz, 1998; Wahl, 1999; Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). Psychologists hold a unique perspective regarding the scientific understanding of discrimination and disabilities. Accordingly, APA urges its members and the psychology community to mobilize against this harmful legislation.

In years prior, APA has endorsed a resolution for psychologists that recognizes the dignity and worth of all people including their right to self-determination and the duty of psychologists to safeguard the welfare and rights of those with whom they interact professionally and other affected persons (APA, 2002).

With this longstanding history of support for the disability community, the APA urges you to reach out to your Member of Congress regarding H.R. 620 and its dire implications for Americans with disabilities. We must protect the rights of all Americans.

We encourage you to:

  1. Urge your Members of Congress to not support HR 620

  2. Join APA’s Federal Action Network

  3. Follow APA’s Public Interest activities on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook


American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct. Source: Author. Retrieved from:

Markowitz, F. E. (1998). The effects of stigma on the psychological well-being and life satisfaction of persons with mental illness. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 39, 335-348.

Wahl, O. F. (1999). Mental health consumers’ experience of stigma. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 25, 467-478.

Williams, D., & Williams-Morris, R. (2000). Racism and mental health: The African American experience. Ethnicity & Health, 5(3/4), 243-268.


Abigail Luke is an undergraduate in the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State University studying Psychology and Political Science with minors in Spanish and Global & International Studies. After graduation, she intends to attend law school with hopes of working in social policy. She is interested in the intersection of psychology and public policy, specifically the translation psychological research for lawmakers. This summer, Abigail worked as an intern in the APA’s Public Interest Government Relations Office.

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