Congress Wants to Change the Americans With Disabilities Act and Undermine the Civil Rights of People With Disabilities

The Americans with Disabilities Act is the most comprehensive and foundational civil rights law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. Yet, 27 years after it was passed, people with disabilities still face enormous barriers. People with mobility disabilities routinely find themselves blocked from the simplest of social interactions. They are unable to go to the corner grocery store to pick up a quart of milk because there is a step at the door. They are unable to go to the local movie theatre with their friends because there is no accessible seating. They might be able to get into the door of the local restaurant, but are stymied if they have to go to the bathroom while they are there, because it is the size of a postage stamp.

Title III of the ADA creates a proactive duty on businesses to remove architectural barriers and other obstacles that impede access to the establishment. But businesses have resisted making such changes for decades. And, now, they are asking Congress to help them. A harmful new bill in the House of Representatives, the so-called ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620), is gaining steam. It will be debated in the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning and may go to House floor for a vote soon thereafter.

We must stop this bill from ever becoming law.

H.R. 620 would completely change the way in which a business is required to comply with the ADA. Instead of requiring that a business comply proactively, the bill would place the burden on the individual who is being denied access. This bill proposes that after an individual with a disability is denied access she must first notify the business owner, with exacting specificity, that her civil rights were violated, and then wait for six months to see if the business will make “substantial progress” toward access, before going to a court to order compliance.

Business owners can spend years out of compliance and face no penalty even after they receive notice, so long as the owners claim “substantial progress.” By allowing a business an endless amount of time to become compliant with the ADA’s reasonable requirements, H.R. 620 removes any incentive for a business to proactively ensure that people with disabilities have access. Instead, the bill encourages businesses to just wait until an individual’s civil rights are violated before making any changes.

Those who support H.R. 620, particularly business groups, have argued that the bill makes only a minor and noncontroversial change to the ADA. They claim that the bill merely gives business owners additional time to make their facility accessible after they are notified of a problem. This argument is specious at best and should be rejected.

Supporters of this legislation ignore that shifting the burden in the bill goes completely against how our nation has enforced its civil rights laws since the passage of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. When Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, it included a provision that allowed an individual who is denied access to a public accommodation because of race, color, religion, or national origin to immediately seek relief to gain access. This enforcement mechanism served as a powerful and incentivizing tool to ensure that businesses proactively complied with the law.

The success of the public accommodation provision in the Civil Rights Act influenced Congress when it drafted the Americans with Disabilities Act. Indeed, the public accommodation enforcement provision in the ADA is modeled on the enforcement provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Congress recognized that the civil rights of people with disabilities and their access to places of public accommodations should be treated no differently than the civil rights protections based on race, color, religion, or national origin.

This principle has stood in law for more than a quarter century. But now some in Congress are trying to change the way our country treats the civil rights of people with disabilities. That’s why the ACLU is fighting to ensure that the guarantees of the ADA continue; that the civil rights of people with disabilities are protected; and, in keeping with the intent of Congress, that they be treated no differently than others.

It is imperative that members of Congress stand up for the rights of people with disabilities. The Judiciary Committee in the House of Representatives is planning to vote and debate H.R. 620 on Thursday. The ACLU is urging all members of the Committee to vote against the bill and to stop it from going to the full House for a vote.

The bottom line is that people who use wheelchairs or who have other needs deserve the same right to visit local businesses as any other individual. Forcing people with disabilities to wait months to visit a supermarket or bookstore is precisely the kind of discrimination the ADA was designed to prevent. Businesses have had more than enough “notification” to comply with disability rights law. People with disabilities deserve equal access today — civil rights should not be delayed or tied up in bureaucratic red tape.

View comments (220)
Read the Terms of Use

Marianne

Thank you ACLU! I can see the path they are trying to go with this bill. Change it in the ADA, once that is settled move on to the Civil Rights Act. We cannot afford to allow even one civil right be weakened!

PATRICIA GONZALES

AS A PERSON WITH LIMITED ABILITIES I AM SHAKEN TO THE CORE HOW REPUBLICANS ARE INTENT ON KILLING EVERYONES CIVIL RIGHTS . WE MUST STOP TRUMP & REPUBLICANS FROM DESTROYING OUR RIGHTS..

Anon

It's not just Republicans this time. I'm shocked that almost half the cosponsors are Democrats.

Cosponsors: H.R.620 — 115th Congress (2017-2018)

Sponsor: Rep. Poe, Ted [R-TX-2]

* = Original cosponsor

Cosponsor Date Cosponsored
Rep. Roby, Martha [R-AL-2] 06/15/2017
Rep. Sewell, Terri A. [D-AL-7] 05/22/2017
Rep. Sinema, Kyrsten [D-AZ-9] 03/29/2017
Rep. Aguilar, Pete [D-CA-31] 02/27/2017
Rep. Bera, Ami [D-CA-7]* 01/24/2017
Rep. Calvert, Ken [R-CA-42]* 01/24/2017
Rep. Correa, J. Luis [D-CA-46] 03/22/2017
Rep. Costa, Jim [D-CA-16] 08/08/2017
Rep. Denham, Jeff [R-CA-10] 03/28/2017
Rep. Issa, Darrell E. [R-CA-49] 04/05/2017
Rep. Peters, Scott H. [D-CA-52]* 01/24/2017
Rep. Speier, Jackie [D-CA-14]* 01/24/2017
Rep. Coffman, Mike [R-CO-6] 05/22/2017
Rep. Collins, Doug [R-GA-9] 03/22/2017
Rep. Foster, Bill [D-IL-11] 03/28/2017
Rep. Rush, Bobby L. [D-IL-1] 05/19/2017
Rep. Abraham, Ralph Lee [R-LA-5] 02/27/2017
Rep. Mitchell, Paul [R-MI-10] 03/29/2017
Rep. Emmer, Tom [R-MN-6] 05/19/2017
Rep. Russell, Steve [R-OK-5] 07/26/2017
Rep. Conaway, K. Michael [R-TX-11]* 01/24/2017
Rep. Cuellar, Henry [D-TX-28] 07/26/2017
Rep. Smith, Lamar [R-TX-21] 08/08/2017

John M

Shame on anyone assuming it is only one political party.

Anonymous

So many sponsors from California. That's very disheartening.

Norman Gonzalez

Is both Democrats and Republicans sponsoring the bill, mostly from CA.
Inform properly before blasting away

Windchyme

Funny you say that because I am conservative and I am as horrified as you are.....that must mean that you don't know what you are talking about...just saying

Anonymous

Do you know which president enacted this law?

A11y Advocate

As of 9/17/17 40 co sponsors are Republican, 22 are Democrats. What's interesting to me is HALF of the dems co-sponsoring are from California. Why might that be? I have an idea, but first we must understand that access to business is not limited to brick and mortar establishments. The ADA also protects the rights of PWD from barriers to online experiences (shopping, classes, etc.)

Target was famously sued when a blind shopper could not complete a transaction on their website. The banking industry has armies of specialists that keep their online services safe and secure for people who, for example, use screen reading software. Amazon, while not perfect, is a powerful example of a retailer who embraces access to their website for all customers. As an early adopter of accessible experiences, Amazon has avoided the kind of legal entanglements other online retailers have faced.

Companies slower to embrace accessible use of their websites have become vulnerable to a proliferation of ADA lawsuits, not to mention lost profits from an ignored market demographic.

But, updating a website to make it accessible to people who use assistive technologies can be a complicated endeavor. It can involve anything from relatively minor redesign to complete overhaul.

Accessibility, as this Tech industry area of expertise is called, isn't a one-time solution. It's a component of any web or mobile developer's skills set. Slowly, computer science courses are beginning to require accessibility as part of the curriculum but, currently, the majority of tech workers have only a rudimentary understanding of accessibility, if they're familiar at all.

All of this is to say, making online experiences ADA compliant is going to be a slow process so it makes sense that California's Dems are co-sponsoring HR620. It buys them more time by not committing to solid end results.

Is this acceptable? In my opinion, no.

Anonymous

Where does this article say anything about republicans or Trump? You assholes out there want to blame anything and everything on the republicans and on Trump!! You all must be constipated, so take your heads out of your asses and go take a shit and stop blaming everything on them!!! Those of us that hated Barak Hussein with every fiber of our beings didn't pull all the shit that you people are pulling. Get a job!! Oh wait, I'm probably supporting your ass on welfare or disability!! I'm right, aren't I?

Pages

Stay Informed