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ADA EDUCATION AND REFORM ACT UNDERMINES THE ADA
Background: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is considered one of the greatest bipartisan achievements of the last 30 years. Enacted in 1990 with overwhelming support and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, this seminal legislation has protected the civil rights of people who have physical, intellectual, and mental disabilities for more than 26 years.
The ADA requires the removal of barriers that deny individuals with disabilities equal opportunity and access to jobs, public accommodations, government services, public transportation, and telecommunications. This law has been good for businesses and the economy. It allows millions of people with disabilities to frequent businesses they previously could not access due to architectural barriers, and offers these businesses a vast new clientele of 57 million Americans with disabilities. Under the ADA, if people with disabilities feel that their rights are being violated because they cannot physically access a business, they now have the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to get the problem fixed but not to recoup monetary damages. Many of these complaints are resolved by mediators without litigation ever being filed.
The Success of the ADA is Now at Risk: On January 25, 2017, Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. H.R. 620 would impose several additional burdens on plaintiffs before they can file a civil action for an accessibility violation in a public accommodation case. Most egregiously, the legislation improperly shifts the burden of ensuring compliance with the ADA to individuals with disabilities who are being denied access to public accommodations due to the failure of business owners to comply with the ADA.
H.R. 620 would make it the responsibility of the individual who is being denied access to a store, restaurant, hotel or other commercial establishment to tell business owners that their facilities do not comply with federal disability laws. This legislation would then provide the business with two months to explain to the person with the disability how it will fix a problem that never should have occurred in the first place and another four months to fix the problem. During those six months, the business legally would remain out of compliance with existing law and inaccessible to people with disabilities. Under H.R. 620, only after 180 days could a person with a disability exercise their legal rights under the ADA by filing a complaint with DOJ.
The 180-day waiting period is particularly problematic if an individual with a disability has to wait months to be able to access a business essential to activities of daily living such as a laundromat, doctor’s office, or supermarket. No other member of a protected class has to wait to exercise their legal rights alleging discrimination, and people with disabilities should not be forced to wait for months to enforce their civil rights under the ADA.
The legislation is a reaction to the belief of some in the business community that H.R. 620 is needed because many ADA violations are “minor,” such as a toilet or bathroom mirror being set at an improper height. However, these issues may matter a great deal to a person with disability and make a significant difference to his or her ability to participate in and contribute to society. In addition, a few attorneys have acted unethically when contacting business owners about ADA violations. These interactions have alarmed some business owners who reached out to their members of Congress for redress. However, concerns regarding the conduct of attorneys can and should be address by complaints to state bar associations and state courts, which are best positioned to discipline errant attorneys.
The Ask: Please reach out to your Representatives to urge them to oppose H.R. 620. The Americans with Disabilities Act Education and Reform Act, H.R. 620, would undermine a key component of the ADA and lead to a less accessible society. Tell Congress not to weaken a law that has allowed people with disabilities to participate fully in all aspects of society and has been good for the economy. Congress should not roll back nearly 30 years of progress.
Please send an email to your member of Congress. Click for a sample letter and talking points. Click here to find your Representative. For more information, please contact Aaron Kaufman, Senior Legislative Associate, at (202) 736-5865 or email@example.com.