House Members Are Pushing a Bill That Will Roll Back the Rights of People With Disabilities

The entrance to the post office in a small town was up a flight of 20 steps. When told he needed to make the post office accessible to wheelchair users, the postmaster was befuddled. “I’ve been here for thirty-five years and in all that time I’ve yet to see a single customer come in here in a wheelchair,” he said, according to Joe Shapiro in his 1994 book, “No Pity.”

It would seem the postmaster didn’t see the irony in that response. But it’s because of that lack of awareness from business owners and government workers that Congress in 1990 passed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which promoted the integration, acceptance, and everyday rights of people with disabilities. But this week, the House of Representatives could undermine a key tenet of that landmark civil rights law.

Under Title III of the ADA, private businesses must ensure new buildings are accessible and remove barriers in older buildings where it is “readily achievable”—a standard that considers the cost of the change and the resources of the business. For example, a major hotel chain might need to spend several thousand dollars to make a few of their rooms accessible, but a small business might only be expected to spend a few hundred dollars to grind down a three inch lip into a doorway, or to put a ramp up two stairs. Now a group of businesses led by the owners of large shopping malls have persuaded more than 100 representatives to introduce H.R. 620, the so-called “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.” This legislation would require people with disabilities who encounter access barriers at a business or facility to become legal experts on the code, to provide “notice” to the business of what code they are violating, and to wait six months or longer. And this isn’t even for the business to actually fix the problem—just for the business to make “substantial progress” towards accessibility.

Only after all these steps and months of waiting, would H.R. 620 authorize filing a lawsuit. Navigating such a process would be both complicated and time-consuming, which, of course, is the point of the bill.

Proponents of H.R. 620 claim that the bill will help dampen what they see as an increase in individuals bringing harassing or unjustified access lawsuits against small businesses. This is an absurd argument that functions as a strawman to attack the rights of the disability community. ADA lawsuits are already one of the lowest categories of lawsuits filed against businesses. The Center for American Progress has reported that the small uptick in ADA litigation can be attributed to “just 12 individual attorneys and a single disability law firm” which filed more than 100 cases each.
Data Table of Caseload of Accessibility Complaint Statistics

On a practical level, the legislation would effectively exempt businesses from compliance with Title III of the ADA, but it would do nothing to resolve the problem of individuals who are viewed as bringing harassing or unjustified access lawsuits against small businesses. Instead, H.R. 620 erodes the balancing of interests in the ADA by removing incentives for businesses to comply with the law and by placing excessive burdens on individuals with disabilities.

As Amy Robertson of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center explains, defense firms fight even the most obvious access violations. “When presented with tape-measure evidence of noncompliance,” Robertson has written, “businesses challenge standing, limit or withhold discovery, move to compel and for protective orders, resist class certification, move to stay the litigation, seek summary judgment, and only then—after years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees on both sides—agree to comply.”

And in reality, there’s no real incentive to dedicate one’s life to hassling businesses with lawsuits. There are no damages available under the ADA—only attorneys’ fees and injunctive relief, which removes the specific barrier they’re contesting. Litigation is time-consuming, attorneys are expensive, and people with disabilities are too busy leading their lives to file endless lawsuits.

People with disabilities face barriers everyday: inaccessible restrooms, inaccessible medical equipment, inaccessible parking lots, inaccessible entrances, and inaccessible tables at restaurants. But instead of fixing those problems, H.R. 620 would force people who have historically faced the most marginalization and discrimination in society to become legal code experts and navigate a byzantine bureaucratic process before being able to assert their rights under the ADA. The specifics of this bill might look different in the final version, but no cosmetic modifications can change the fact that it’s predicated on a faulty premise. As a matter of law and justice, businesses owe it to people with disabilities to proactively ensure access—not the other way around.

If the House wants to rectify problems in access litigation, it should be assessing penalties against noncompliant businesses—not making it harder for people with disabilities to simply assert our right to be part of society.

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Well said.


Businesses have spent decades knowing that they are required to provide accessible facilities. Even if ADA lawsuits were being filed by paid litigants, it would still be the business' fault for not proactively complying with the law.


If the only ones making money off of ADA lawsuits are the attorneys, instead of penalizing those that actually need acces, why can't it be made mandatory for every attorney to do an ADA or low income case pro-bono?


Sadly, there is an annoying lawyer who is going around and suing a good number of places here in the Bay area, a nearby deli was forced to close when he couldn't afford the lawsuit and/or the changes necessary to comply.

Dr. Timothy Leary

This is where you are supposed to use the word "shyster".

Dr. Timothy Leary

Lucifer, he's the one with the pitchfork. I am right ?

SD handlernonymous

I have had the honor of having a service dog by my side since the mid 90s. My third SD has her head in my lap as I type this.
When I read the start of this article, I thought for sure someone had seen a post I made regarding the post office in Delta, CO as well as many of the businesses. The post master made the very same ignorant statement to my husband when we let him know about the problem of me not being able to maneuver my wheelchair up two flight os stone steps. They refused to deliver mail our home even though it was on a level street, had a concrete apron from our driveway so I could get the mail on my own...because the mailman would have had to turn around, and they weren’t allowed to?! It was only after we contacted his superior that we got any real action: an unannounced visit to my home by the same postmaster who wanted to see for himself that I was ( and am ) disabled and utilize a wheelchair!! First, he said I could use their delivery ramp at the back of the P.O., but it was at least a 35 degree anglle! After a year, he finally relented and allowed delivery to our home.
The disabled community doesn’t need or deserve to be set back 20 years...we deserve the same rights to access that allows us to enter any business as easily as those who have no disability. None of us asked to be handicapped, like it’s some nifty, special club.


I had a similar experience with the post office. I needed to park in the only one available space for disabled people at a doctor’s office but it was taken by a USPS truck. I left a note on the windshield and when I returned the comment left by the driver was “Post Office has priority parking. We are not in violation of your rights.” When I questioned my neighborhood postmaster he said the comment was true. I feel for you.

Julie D

Unfortunately, here in CA. unscrupulous lawyers have made millions sending disabled people into businesses, then threatening the owners. Business's have had to close because they were unable to afford compliance., especially for old buildings.
Truthfully, since laws change all the time, it's virtually impossible to be compliant. It also doesn't help that judges have to allow the frivolous suing.. There has to be a half way point of agreement. As a business owner, I see both sides.


Maybe you should hire a lawyer to educate you?

For instance, the article contradicts your entire assertion.


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