Special Collection: The Chapman Amendment


The following documents demonstrate the power of advocacy in the defeat of an amendment to the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) offered by Rep. Jim Chapman (D-Tex.) (the “Chapman Amendment”). 136 Cong. Rec. H. 10911 (May 17, 1990).

The Chapman Amendment would have permitted restaurant owners and other employers to remove workers with contagious diseases, such as AIDS, to non-food handling jobs. Although supporters conceded that there was no established medical evidence that AIDS could be transmitted through food handling, they argued that the amendment was needed to protect business and employees from the public hysteria over AIDS. In introducing the amendment, Chapman stated:

The reality is that many Americans would refuse to patronize any food establishment if an employee were known to have a communicable disease. Damage to the business can be severe and . . .  could cause the loss of all the jobs of the employees that work there[.]. 136 Cong. Rec. 10911-2 (May 17, 1990).

The Chapman Amendment was supported by the National Restaurant Association (“NRA”), along with the National Federation of Independent Businesses (“NFIB”) and a number of business groups representing the food services industry. 136 Cong. Rec. 17038 (July 11, 1990). After vigorous debate, the amendment passed the House on May 17, 1990.

As Feldblum describes in her oral history,  the disability community galvanized to stop the amendment in the Senate. She recalled key moments in the debate, including Congressman John Lewis’ “incredible” floor statement against the amendment, comparing it to racist proposals that were introduced in the debate over the Civil Rights Act of 1964. More than 300 groups and individuals went on the record to oppose the amendment, including distinguished members of the medical establishment. 136 Cong. Rec. 17046-17053 (July 11, 1990).

Ultimately, Feldblum said, the disability community convinced Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to introduce a substitute amendment that required the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop a list of contagious diseases that could be communicated through food handling. 136 Cong. Rec. 17033 (July 11, 1990) Because of the consensus of the medical community about how the HIV infection is communicated, it would not be included on such a list.

The Senate passed the Hatch Amendment on July 11, 1990, and House conferees accepted the compromise language, leading to passage of the ADA without the offending language of the Chapman Amendment. History of the amendment and advocacy efforts with links to key Congressional documents (House and Senate reports, Conference Committee report, etc.).

Legislative Documents

Letters of Support

Letters in Opposition

Selected Documents from the Feldblum Collection