Is Bad Eyesight A Disability?

Truck mechanic Vaughn Murphy has suffered from high blood pressure virtually his entire life, and when he accepted a job fixing UPS trucks, he figured he'd keep right on taking the medication he'd taken most of his life to control the illness. But when UPS discovered his blood pressure readings, they saw it differently, CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart reports.

"They thought I'd have a heart attack and die and they'd be responsible, they'd be liable - you know that I'd take somebody with me. That was what their fear was," Murphy said.

UPS fired Murphy. He responded by suing under the Americans with Disabilities Act, a 1990 law best known for requiring handicap-access ramps in public buildings.

Murphy's is one of three suits now before the Supreme Court asking the question, what is a disability?

If high blood pressure is included, how about diabetes? Or bad eyesight? A case involving United Airlines and two nearsighted pilots will be heard on Wednesday.

The court is being asked to determine whether the Disabilities Act, which protects the disabled from discrimination, applies to people with correctable conditions such as poor eyesight or high blood pressure.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce argued Tuesday - and some justices seemed to agree - that the courts could be overwhelmed with claims of disability. "It would mean a vast increase in the amount of litigation under this statue. It's very costly. And the bottom line is that it will result in lesser protection for those with true disabilities," said Stephen Bokat of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

But Vaughn Murphy's lawyers argue that now is the time to expand the role of the Disabilities Act in the workplace. "The point was to give people a chance to work if they can, to make them self sufficient, to eliminate stereotypes and myths about the disabled and what they can or can't do," said Murphy lawyer Stephen McAllister.

The problem for the justices is one of definition. Is a disability still a disability if it's a problem that can be kept in a check, say by something as simple as blood pressure medicine or even a pair of corrective eyeglasses?


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  • CBSNews.com staff CBSNews.com staff

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