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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Anonymous

so if you know any lawyer or person abusing the ADA law you should go report it, and the government should prosecute them... there is absolutely no need to change the law because some people is breaking the law, your argument is totally non sense

Anonymous

Unfortunately this is true. Google Scott Johnson ADA Attorney. He goes around suing companies or threatening to sue if they don't pay him. Several California businesses have closed because of him. One was an amazing hamburger spot called the squeeze inn. It was on the food network once. It was charming because it was so small it was more like a walk up booth. The owners were accommodating & would bring the food to you so you didn't have to walk into the actual "building". It's gone now. Ford burgers, built in the 50's, sits empty. Those are jobs lost. I want the ADA to stay. It's important. I am disabled and so is my son but people like Scott Johnson shouldn't be making money off of these claims. He & his kind should be stopped. Here's one more store of literally 1000's. http://sacramento.cbslocal.com/2014/06/03/manteca-business-owner-locks-doors-in-fear-of-ada-lawsuits-from-scott-johnson/

Anonymous

You took the words right out of my mouth. There have been a string of these cases throughout Breckenridge, CO that I know of. There was also a fabulous little restaurant in Bailey, CO that closed because of this. These lawyers offer to "go away" for $15,000.00 because going to court will cost them more than that.

Candy

There is a reason why this idiot is posting as 'anonymous.' Probably a Nazi sympathizer. Sad!

Anonymous

So we should just throw the baby out with the bathwater, eh?

Ellen

No, there really isn't an industry of ADA lawyers who are falsely drumming up charges. Its is incredibly difficult for people with disabilities to fight the system and thank goodness there are attorneys that specialize in helping this most oppressed group.

Kimma

I am so damn tired of this as pushback against the ADA. If the businesses were up to code in the first place, there wouldn't be a problem. I'm nigh on certain they are aware by now they need to comply--they simply don't give a shit about people like myself.

Chris Traynor

So there's a leak in the basement and you want to raze the entire first floor? Weakening the entirety of the law, especially after the business has had 25+ years to repair/renovate physical barriers is nonsense, not to mention a giant "screw you" to anyone with s mobility issue!

At the moment some 19% of Americans are disabled. Given our expanding medical technology, our bodies are now more likely to live on with infirmaty then to simply give out one day. The "good death" is becoming a memory - we are all to become hobbled/disabled before we die. It is inevitable just as its inevitable that someone you love will become disabled while still relatively young.

Inclusion is up to us and our lawmakers. Stand with the ACLU now!

Chris Traynor
Ctraynor@whip-smart.com
*fully disabled 7/2002

Anonymous

How about proof of that? I think you're wrong.

J McNamara

I whole heartedly disagree with your position. The ADA is notna new law- its 25 yrs old and there is no reason for any business not to be prepared to comply immediately. If there is going to bea grace period it shouldnbe equivalent to housing violations- ypu have 1 week to comply or be fined.

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