Protect your ADA rights!

Posted by Reeve Foundation Staff in Daily Dose on February 08, 2018 # Advocacy and Policy

Since its passage in 1990, opponents of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) have claimed that the law subjects businesses and other facilities to onerous and burdensome regulations. As a result, Congress has repeatedly introduced legislation that seeks to weaken the ability of people with disabilities to seek legal redress for violations of the ADA.

Next week, the House of Representatives will consider one such bill, the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620). This legislation would significantly and profoundly change the current process that a person with a disability can use to ensure that a business/facility is compliant with the law.

Under current law, if a person with a disability encounters an architectural barrier that prevents access to a business/facility, he or she can speak directly with the business, file a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ), or file a lawsuit. H.R. 620, however, would shift the burden of protecting the right to access a public place to the person with the disability, who after being denied access, must:

  • Determine that violations of the law have occurred
  • Provide the business with specific notice citing which provisions of the law were violated and when (requiring the person with the disability to be fluent in ADA law)
  • Allow the business a period of up to six months to correct the problem - during which time the person filing the complaint remains unable to access the business.

In addition, the business not in compliance with the ADA could use the new law to claim they were making “substantial progress” on removing barriers to access - but the bill provides no definition of what “substantial progress” is. In effect, the business could use this claim to deny access to people with disabilities indefinitely, with no fear of legal recourse.

The bill’s sponsors and supporters say they aim to protect business owners from the burden of understanding and complying with rules designed to ensure that people with disabilities can access public accommodations; they argue that the minutiae of disability law is too burdensome. (Even though these businesses have had nearly 28 years to comply.) A congressional report justifying the need for the legislation states:

“The sheer number of technical requirements that businesses must follow is a major cause of non-compliance...a single bathroom must meet at least 95 different standards from the height of the toilet paper dispenser to the exact placement of handrails.”

Instead, Congress aims to force people with disabilities to shoulder this burden and to provide businesses with information about the specific legal obligations that they are violating. It should not be incumbent on the person being denied access to know the ins and outs of the ADA; that should be on the business. Put another way, the ADA was written to outlaw discrimination, yet this legislation would allow that very discrimination to exist until pointed out by the very people it discriminates again – and then allows that discrimination to continue for six more months.

Astonishingly, the bill has 108 cosponsors (97 Republicans and 11 Democrats) in the House of Representatives, and we expect next week’s vote to be very close. The Reeve Foundation is opposed to this and we need our advocates to write their Representatives and urge them NOT to chip away at the protections afforded by the ADA, which have protected people with disabilities for nearly 28 years.