Don’t Tread on My ADA
By Elizabeth Campbell
As the systems change advocate for DMC, part of my job is to protect and advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. I was, therefore, devastated when the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act. I’m not only concerned for the disability community overall, but especially for those in my dwarfism community. A substantial portion of us use scooters or power wheelchairs to get around. We often feel discriminated against and not taken seriously. The right to file an access complaint is important and a necessary civil right.
Of all the public policies and pending legislation I have worked on in my position at DMC, to me, H.R. 620 holds the biggest threat for people with disabilities and the aging/elderly population. Under Title III of the ADA, public accommodations and commercial facilities built prior to January 26 1992 are required to remove barriers “if readily achievable to do so”. Readily achievable barrier removal is defined as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense”. Examples are installation of Ramps, curb cuts, grab bars in the restroom; repositioning shelves, telephones, paper towel dispensers; rearranging furniture; widening doors; removing high pile-low density carpeting, etc. Since 1992, businesses that fail to remove architectural barriers are not compliant with the ADA and risk a lawsuit.
Under H.R. 620, a person with a disability confronting access barriers would be required to give a written notice to the business owner, (instead of the DOJ) who would then have 60 days to even acknowledge the problem, followed by an additional 120 days to take corrective action. This up-ends the careful balancing reached by the drafters of the ADA. No other group is forced to wait 180 days to enforce their civil rights. I’m afraid people will abandon their right to file a barrier or inaccessibility grievance and simply give up, because of this lengthy process.
Under this proposed law, people with disabilities and elderly persons, who use mobility aids such as wheelchairs and walkers, will be required to inform businesses of the specific provisions of the ADA they are violating. Currently, businesses already have access to numerous FREE and affordable resources, including the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) ADA website, the DOJ hotline, and the ten federally funded regional ADA centers. These entities are well versed in the requirements of the ADA and it is unreasonable to put this burden on individuals with disabilities.
The impetus behind H.R. 620 is that too many “frivolous” lawsuits are being filed regarding the ADA. A report that analyzed the 6,600 Title III lawsuits filed in 2016 and found that the majority were brought by twelve serial plaintiffs. The ADA prohibits individuals with disabilities from financially benefiting from lawsuits seeking to make businesses more accessible. Only a handful of states have passed additional legislation allowing plaintiffs to profit from such cases and the majority of lawsuits are filed in these states. Clearly, this abuse is a state issue and not a national problem.
Now advocates, disabled citizens, their families and friends must band together to ensure that a companion bill to H.R. 620 is not passed by the senate, which would lead to the almost certain enactment of the legislation. What I’m truly concerned about is the message and unintended implications this bill represents. This legislation will categorize people with disabilities as second-class citizens by putting their civil right of access on hold. The bill is nothing close to an “education act – it is inaptly named and its priorities are incredibly skewed. It protects businesses over people. So don’t tread on my ADA.