The battle to protect the foundation of disability rights: it is time to join the fight.

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on March 28, 2018 # Advocacy and Policy

When terrorists first attempted to destroy the World Trade Center in New York City in 1993, it does not surprise me that they chose to do so by detonating a huge bomb in the basement parking garage. If the foundations of the trade center could be destroyed, the entire structure above would collapse. While their efforts to collapse the building were unsuccessful at that time, six people lost their lives and many more were injured because of the explosion and subsequent evacuations.

Building implosions are usually televised and there are dozens of them around the world each year. In most cases, the foundations of the structures are targeted for destruction in order to allow everything above to collapse into a pile of rubble.

Something similar is happening to disability civil rights. Previous and repeated attempts to delete, or at least "water down," the laws that protect us have not been successful, so leaders in Washington and many states have decided to do it bit by bit through elimination of supportive programs or diminished funding that amounts to harassment of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Attacks on the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 serve as a prime example. The law outlines standards that assure there is universal access to state and local government and public accommodations, as well as employment.

Businesses, and organizations that historically represent them, have not been shy about expressing their dislike of the ADA; this is especially true if they have been found out of compliance with the law and forced to pay attorneys' fees and correct the conditions that brought about the initial complaint.

The ADA's "detractors" assure that the media highlights what they call instances of "vexatious litigation" or "drive-by" lawsuits; those are cases where a complainant simply forces the business to make a payment without actually requiring a correction of the situation that caused it in the first place. Such media campaigns have impacted the reputations of several attorneys who have represented complainants in multiple cases.

It is not as if the ADA is expensive for the majority of those out of compliance if they choose to correct the situation. The law includes tax credits or deductions in several areas to reward those who have expenditures related to required access improvements and also established generous time limits for accomplishing the work. Despite that, some business interests seem to prefer spending large amounts of money to fight compliance rather than simply doing what the law requires.

Emboldened by having both houses of Congress and the White House controlled by members of a single political party, many whose campaigns had been financed by large donations from business, the House of Representatives introduced and passed HR 620 which is a frontal attack on disability civil rights. Although the proposed change sounds simple enough, extending the amount of time that a business that is out of compliance with the ADA would have to complete repairs after a complaint is filed, the sad fact is that those offending entities have had 28 years to comply with the law and still haven't done so. The proposed changes would also require the complainant to identify what section of the ADA each violation violated, and how to correct it. That is unique to any law in the United States, and would encourage those who choose not to comply with the law to simply wait until someone files a complaint against them then delay for months longer.

At the time this was written, HR 620 has not been acted upon by the Senate. Concurrently, the Department of Justice has removed some of its guidance about how to comply with the ADA from the DOJ website. That is just one more attack on the foundation of our disability rights.

The Reeve Foundation has joined many other disability advocacy and support organizations from across the country to ask people to contact their legislators to express concerns about this ill-intentioned piece of legislation. Even if this bill does not pass the Senate in this session of Congress--it has been tried before and failed--it will probably be reintroduced in the future.

Call today, if you haven't done so already, and don't forget to vote; get everyone you know to do that as well.

© 2018 Michael Collins