U.S. Department of Justice rescission of the ADA

Posted by Reeve Foundation Staff in Daily Dose on January 31, 2018 # Advocacy and Policy

On December 21, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded 25 Department of Justice (DOJ) documents that addressed a wide range of federal laws. These documents were created by the Justice Department to serve as legal guides to people and organizations on a range of issues; ten of them specifically provided guidance on the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) to help businesses understand and comply with the ADA.

In a statement justifying the decision, the Justice Department claimed the documents were "unnecessary, inconsistent with existing law, or otherwise improper." Indeed, several of the rescinded documents bear that out – for example, the elimination of 23 year-old guidance document called “ADA Myths and Facts” may seem harmless enough.

Other rescissions, however, are cause for concern; a 1999 document titled “Common ADA Problems at Newly Constructed Lodging Facilities,” for example. Anyone in a wheelchair who’s stayed at a noncompliant hotel knows these problems haven’t abated. Another document focused on employment integration, and provided guidance to ensure that people with disabilities were offered alternative working options to accommodate them.

The Justice Department notes that the withdrawal of these guidance documents “does not change the legal responsibilities of State and local governments under title II of the ADA” – but it’s obviously harder for states and local governments to comply with the law if less guidance is available. In addition, there is no question that eliminating these documents send the wrong signal about the necessity of the ADA.

Even more concerning, the decision would appear to be part of a broader effort by Congress and the Administration to chip away at ADA protections, and reflects a diminished concern in Washington for people with disabilities. In Congress, for example, Rep. Ted Poe’s (R-TX) “ADA Education and Reform Act” (H.R. 620) would create significant obstacles for people with disabilities to enforce their rights under ADA to access public accommodations. The bill eliminates an important provision of the ADA by preventing people with disabilities from immediately going to court to enforce their rights and to press for timely removal of the barrier that impedes access.

Astonishingly, the bill has 104 cosponsors (93 Republicans and 11 Democrats) in the House of Representatives and has already passed out of a key committee; the full House could vote on it this year. This is another example of Congress and the Administration continually failing to keep the unique needs of the disabled population in mind. (We urge you to write your legislators and tell them to oppose this dangerous bill.)

The ADA has not only ensured that the civil rights of people with disabilities are protected, but has also provided businesses with more customers by ensuring access. The Department of Justice’s guidance documents provided clear ways to employ and train this same population. We cannot allow government to take these massive steps backwards, and away from a fully accessible, integrated society.

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