How Bad Are Proposed Changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act?
My knee was jerking the other day. It wasn’t my MS, it was my knee-jerk reaction to the passage in the U.S. House of Representatives of a bill called the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (HR 620).
Before the vote, people with disabilities demonstrated inside the Capitol against a bill that seeks to modify the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA. Some were arrested. The Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund called the bill “exceptionally harmful” and wrote on its website that it “would turn people with disabilities into second-class citizens, and its priorities are profoundly skewed. This bill goes against the very principles of an inclusive society that America is all about.”
A headline on Newsweek‘s website screamed: “HOUSE VOTES TO GUT THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT TO NIP ‘ABUSIVE LAWSUITS.'”
The American Civil Liberties Union put out a “Myths and Truths” list about the proposal, saying, “this bill undermines the very purpose of the landmark civil rights law, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and harms people with disabilities.”
Last September, more than 200 disability rights organizations sent a letter to the measure’s sponsors, claiming:
“…the burden of protecting the right to access a public place is shifted to the person with the disability, who first has to be denied access; then must determine that violations of the law have occurred; then must provide the business with specific notice of which provisions of the law were violated and when; and finally, the aggrieved person with the disability must afford the business a lengthy period to correct the problem.”
Join the protests?
- The bill only modifies the section of the ADA that involves barriers to access in areas of businesses and to public accommodations, such as hotels, restaurants, and swimming pools.
- If someone discovers a barrier at a business, before bringing a lawsuit under the ADA the person would now have to give the owner of that business written notice of the problem, including its specific location, the section of the ADA that was violated, whether the barrier was temporary or permanent, and whether anyone was asked to request to remove the barrier.
- The business owner will be given 60 days to respond and 120 days to remove, or “make substantial progress” at removing, the barrier.
The modifications would also require the Justice Department to develop a program to educate state and local governments and property owners about the ADA’s accessibility requirements. It would also require the development of a program to promote the use of mechanisms such as mediation to try to resolve ADA complaints before they’re brought to court.
Is that all bad?
I have to ask myself how onerous these new requirements are.
I’ve had multiple sclerosis since 1980. For the past 13 years, I’ve used an electric scooter to get around. Occasionally, I’ve run into architectural barriers, such as a lack of an automatic door opener. When I’ve brought this to the attention of the business or building owner, the problem was corrected — probably faster than if my first response had been to bring a lawsuit.
I’m not an attorney or an ADA expert. But a few clicks at www.ada.gov took me to a clickable list of ADA Title III regulations, called Section 36. It wasn’t hard to then pinpoint the section of the law that was violated and provide the “written notice” that would now be required.
Opponents of the changes worry that they’ll remove the incentive for a business to comply with the ADA. The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities writes, “If, after 27 years, a business has continued to not comply with the requirements of this legislation, why should a person have to wait more time for enforcement of their civil rights?”
If a business has been flaunting the ADA for two decades, its owner should be locked up and the key thrown away. But, if a barrier has only existed for 27 days or 27 weeks, is a lawsuit the appropriate way to solve the problem? Shouldn’t other ways be tried first?
Did HR 620 “gut” the ADA, as Newsweek wrote? I don’t think so. Was HR 620 necessary? Again, I don’t think so.
I would have preferred that Congress left its hands off the ADA, which has served to protect those of us with disabilities for over a quarter century. But I also think requiring someone with an accessibility complaint to write the business before calling a lawyer isn’t totally a bad thing.
What do you think?
You’re invited to visit my personal blog at www.themswire.com.
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