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McCain vows to back changes to disabilities law

COTTONWOOD – Republican presidential candidate John McCain is pledging support for a proposal to expand protections for disabled people under an 18-year-old landmark civil rights law.

Speaking from Arizona by satellite to a disabilities forum in Columbus, Ohio, McCain said July 26 that revisions to the Americans With Disabilities Act must leave no doubt that it was intended to protect from any discrimination that's based on physical or mental disabilities.

The Supreme Court generally has exempted from the law's protection people with partial physical disabilities, as well as people with physical impairments that can be treated with medication or devices such as hearing aids.

”We must clarify the definition of a disability to assure full protection for those the law is intended to serve,'' said McCain, who was spending the weekend at his nearby northern Arizona getaway.

A month ago, the House passed a bill to extend protections to people who take medicine to control epilepsy, diabetes or cancer, or use prosthetic limbs. McCain, a co-sponsor of the 1990 law, said he intends to support a similar bill in the Senate.

McCain said blame for the narrowed scope of the law shouldn't be placed on the Supreme Court, but rather on Congress. ”In all due respect, I would put the blame right back on us for not writing legislation that is strong enough and specific enough so that the Supreme Court wouldn't even have to consider these cases,'' McCain said.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, who was headed back to the United States from an international trip and didn't attend the forum, has said he supports the bill so that it could override court decisions that narrowed the law's scope. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa, an Obama surrogate who helped write the 1990 law, also spoke at the forum.

”I have found him to be not only interested but also very much aware of the issues confronting the disability community,'' Harkin said in a phone interview after the forum. ”I also find that he is very supportive of doing everything we can do to enhance the Americans with Disabilities Act.''

The forum marked the anniversary of the law, which prohibits discrimination against the disabled in employment, public accommodations, transportation and telecommunications.

The event also was aimed at giving presidential campaigns an opportunity to flesh out their positions on disability issues and at highlighting a voting bloc that is often ignored, said Rebecca Panoff, spokeswoman for the American Association of People with Disabilities, one of the advocacy groups that organized the forum.

”Some people aren't registered (to vote), because they aren't engaged in the political process because they don't feel they are being addressed,'' Panoff said, noting that there are 37 million people with disabilities who are eligible to vote in the United States.

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