EA: How did you conceive of the Americans with Disabilities Act?
TC: When I got elected I was involved with amendments to make sure people with disabilities, including epilepsy, were included in legislation that was being adopted. I realized that what we really needed was to make sure that we had our basic rights, instead of just putting band-aids on every little thing. As people of color and women and everybody else had gotten their basic rights, people with disabilities could be discriminated against legally. I knew that from my personal experience, but I didn't realize how extensive it was. That's when I started working with Senator Lowell P. Weicker, Jr. from Connecticut. We got all kinds of co-sponsors, liberal, conservative, Democrats, and Republicans and it just kept moving forward.
EA: You are currently working on the ADA Restoration Act. What is its intention?
TC: The federal courts have said the states have to conform to the ADA. Where we’ve had trouble is the workplace. Some of the federal courts have ruled that Congress did not intend to cover epilepsy. I was the author, so I think I know what I intended (laugh)! The ADA Restoration Act is basically to restore the definition as originally adopted by the Congress to say in effect that for epilepsy and diabetes and all these other things that the Congress did intend for them to be covered.
EA: What's the most important piece of advice you can share with people who have epilepsy or who have family members with epilepsy?
TC: For someone who has epilepsy: change what you can, if you don't like it, and accept what you can't change. But you've got to be ableat some pointto look in the mirror and say, I love that person. You've got to believe in yourself. And for loved ones of those of us who have epilepsy, my advice is very strong: Don’t love us too much. Loved ones have a tendency to love us so much that they handicap us. Let us grow, let us be just like any other member of the family.
EA: What should someone do if they feel they've been discriminated against?
TC: First, call an Epilepsy Foundation affiliate and see if it is really discrimination. The government, because of the ADA, has a process that you can go through to file a complaint. Some people discriminate without knowing that they have, so the mere fact that you raised the issue is good because you can educate a business or a certain individual. If it’s deliberate discrimination, then something should be done to rectify it.