We would not be surprised if travel agency managements throughout the nation uttered a collective sigh of relief when the Supreme Court handed down three rulings recently that restrict the protections afforded employees by the Americans With Disabilities Act.

This is not to suggest that the people who own and operate agencies harbor a desire to run roughshod over staffers who labor effectively despite impairments or to shut the doors on hiring them in the first place.

We do not think either is the case. The disabled already have proved their worth in the marketplace of business, and the travel-retailing sector is no exception.

Nevertheless, employers seeking clear guidelines on how to operate legally under the disabilities act should be gratified that the court has provided them with a comprehensive, if restrictive, definition of who is covered and who is not.

By unexpectedly decisive 7-2 margins in the separate actions, the court ruled that the law's protections generally do not cover people who can function normally when they wear glasses or take appropriate medications that mitigate their physical disabilities.

Arguing for the majority in one of the three decisions, Sandra Day O'Connor said, "An employer is free to decide that physical characteristics or medical conditions that do not rise to the level of an impairment ... are preferable to others, just as it is free to decide that some limiting, but not substantially limiting, impairments make individuals less than ideally suited for a job."

What does this mean to agency managers? Without question, the decisions will expand their ability to orchestrate their shops' employment practices while reducing their legal exposure to ADA suits. What it does not mean -- and should not mean -- is that employers can discriminate against the truly disabled.

After all, raising the bar on eligibility should not lower the bar on protection for those legitimately covered.

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