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Congress Is Considering a Bill That Attacks the Civil Rights of People With Disabilities

Congress is considering the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, a disastrous bill that reforms the decades-old Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This bill attacks the civil rights of people with disabilities and should under no circumstances be signed into law.

Passed in 1990, the ADA is a federal law that, according to the ADA National Network, “prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including jobs, schools, transportation, and all public and private places that are open to the general public.” The law aims to ensure that those living with disabilities have access to the same rights and opportunities as any other person. One of the most noteworthy parts of the ADA is Title III, which states the “minimum standards for accessibility for alterations and new construction of facilities” and “requires public accommodations to remove barriers in existing buildings where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense.” Title III places a duty upon businesses to comply with ADA regulations proactively, ensuring accessibility in public spaces. However, many have resisted making necessary changes despite the long period of time since the passage of the ADA and people with disabilities, especially mobility disabilities, often face barriers to participating in the most basic parts of daily life.

H.R. 620 places the burden of compliance on disabled individuals rather than businesses themselves.

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (or H.R. 620) is a bill introduced by Texas Representative Ted Poe, which would fundamentally change the way in which any business must adhere to ADA Title III regulations and is detrimental to the ADA in a number of ways. H.R. 620 places the burden of compliance on disabled individuals rather than businesses themselves. As it stands now, the ADA incentivizes businesses to comply with its regulations voluntarily. H.R. 620 would get rid of these incentives entirely. Not only does it de-incentivize voluntary compliance, it goes as far as rewarding non-compliant businesses with lengthy timelines to make simple changes. There would be no penalty for non-compliance, and rather than being able to immediately seek change, the disabled individual would have to go through a complicated notification procedure. Even then, business owners would be given “60 days to respond with a written plan for improvement, and an additional 120 days to correct the deficiency, or at least demonstrate sufficient progress towards a correction,” despite the fact that ADA accessibility regulations have now been in place for nearly three decades. This means that those living with disabilities would be forced to beg and wait for change, living without access for months or even years.

Proponents of the bill claim that it strengthens the ADA and protects non-compliant business owners from frivolous lawsuits. The idea that H.R. 620 would at all strengthen the ADA is entirely false; it would, in fact, do the opposite, preventing those with disabilities from going to court to protect and enforce the civil rights granted to them in the ADA. Additionally, Title III of the ADA only entitles a person who files a lawsuit to the “removal of the barrier and attorney’s fees.” This means that businesses do not have to pay money for damages because of Title III.

Another talking point often cited from those in support of H.R. 620, is that it is too difficult or confusing for businesses, and small businesses, in particular, to comply with ADA regulations. Again, this is simply not true. It is not harder for business to comply with the ADA as compared to any other government regulations, and the ADA provides “extensive, free educational resources” to help businesses to comply.

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 has the potential to be detrimental to the civil rights of people with disabilities. It is clearly nothing more than confusing legislation designed to make it easier for small and large businesses alike to deny innumerable Americans their civil rights.

If you would like to help defend the ADA and the civil rights of Americans with disabilities, you can contact your member of Congress by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Urge them to vote no on the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620). More ways to take action can be found here. The bill has not yet been acted on, but may soon be put up for vote in the House of Representatives. You can track the bill’s progress in Congress here.

Photo: Shawn Campbell, Flickr

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