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.

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A. Brooks

Those of you Healthy Pieces of Trash so in Need of The Disabled Spaces, you Make Me Vomit in My Mouth ! I Wish and Pray a Life of Pain and Complete Disability for Every One of You Lazy, Greedy VILE beings. Beginning with trump & sessions, pence & ryan ! And All of you who write So Without Any Backbone Or Courage, Anonymously. Sickening.

Robin Ruby

Incredibly, during a recent trip to Washington DC, I found myself unable to access virtually every single venue (including pharmacies, food stores, museums, etc.) because of the ubiquitous stairs at each location. I realize how difficult and expensive it would be to rectify this. And the fact the city is old, with strict codes and what have you probably adds to the difficulty. So I will simply apply human willpower to access or find some other way to get what I want or need by using my brain rather than sue. But what I find most disturbing about the proposal is the probability that one singular change to this body of civil rights laws will open the door for others and we will find ourselves rushing pell mell back to the Jim Crowe days of wholesale discrimination against whom ever and whatever. Now won’t that be something to argue about? And I say this with all due respect to our government officials (yes Mr. Trump and Mr. Sessions included) perhaps we could focus more on the problem of the proliferation of assault weapons in this great country sold to people hell bent on massacring their fellow Americans than paving an easier way for business owners not to have to remodel to accommodate handicapped persons such as myself.

Marcia

I don't see why people think there are too many handicap parking apots. When there aren't nearly enough when I go. To those of you complaining about handicapped people you should be ashamed of yourself! When you're in an accident or as you get older and you have severe arthritis don't be asking for any help then. To begin with in how many places I've been even a regular spot is not begin enough why do you think you get dings on the sides of your cars. A parking spot should allow for doors to open as far as the can on the vehicle for people to get in and out. They don't not everyone is a toothpick with super flexibility that they just need a few inches open. Handicapped has just as much right to be out and go places when they want.

Anonymous

This administration needs to get out of office, in their eyes if your not filthy rich or perfect in body your scum and not human, people are paying attention.

Anonymous

He won't get away it. It is obviously unconstitutional.

Jim Meacham

I am a former USAF SrNCO, and shuffle with a cane. My mobility is severely limited, steps instead of ramps do not permit me to access a business, a park, or even something as simple as a public restroom. I am good for maybe a distance of a football field, and then my day is done. I ask that I not be 'regulated' to just staying home, or watching from afar. The ADA was intended to not treat people like me as throw-aways, but to allow us to participate in the enjoyment of life around us.

Court Observer

The new bill should make businesses that are not compliant with ADA requirements provide a way to help the disabled to overcome the architectural barriers. An assistance buzzer, an intercom, or a phone number to call. Employees of the business should help the person get the wheelchair over the obstacle within 5 minutes. Conversely, if there are vacant handicapped parking spaces that are not used a non-handicapped driver can use 1 of the spaces if they post a phone number which when called will move that car within 5 minutes. Otherwise reasonable compensation to the handicapped from the business, or car owner apply.
Simple enough, isn't it? All these ADA requirements are expensive, and honestly I have not seen very many mobile handicapped using what is available already. No building department is allowing new or remodeled construction to be build without full compliance to ADA, and that will not change.

Cedric Hampton

Why you continuously try to to state in the disability acts that you present that you're going to give us who are disabled more job opportunities all corporations only think of one word "liability"! And not all of us can work, but we are treated as non-existent when the country gives s less than 1/3 the price of living per month with that we can't get all of our needs per month so recreational and social events are no chance in life! If anyone of us were to be blessed with a job, not a career, you immediately want to punish us and pull the ground from beneath our feet by taking 1/2 of our assets. We didn't ask the Lord to bless us with a disability or punish us by being born in the USA!

Melanie Hansen

I hate Trump I wish he Knew what it was like to Have a Disability or to have a child or loved one with a disability!!! He's a Cheap Asshole!!! He needs to be kicked out of the white house!!! and we need to fight for Our Loved Ones and everyone

Anonymous

I had a stroke back in 2011 at the age of 24. I can walk, talk, drive, but my right side is weak. I had to learn how to write with my left hand, I wasn’t born disabled (obviously), however I hope and pray to those who are hating against disability accommodations that you never get in a wreck/skiing accident etc. One day you can be on top of the world and the morning after wake up and not be able to speak. Just let that sink in. There’s tons of people out there with “hidden” disabilities.

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