More than two decades after the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Americans with disabilities still navigate a country that resists its duty to advance to a more accessible society. Now, Congress wants to vote on a bill that would further enable this negligence.
Earlier this month, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee voted to move forward on the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620), a bill that would effectively eradicate protections under Title III of the ADA. Title III creates a continuous responsibility for places of public accommodation (restaurants, museums, doctors’ offices, retail stores, etc.) to “remove architectural and structural barriers in existing facilities where readily achievable.” It also legally empowers a person with a disability to file a lawsuit or a complaint with the Justice Department.
But instead of holding businesses accountable to the law, H.R. 620 puts the burden of prosecuting discrimination on people with disabilities. If passed, the person with a disability would have to provide a written notice to the business owner addressing the failure to remove an architectural barrier. They are prohibited from immediately taking legal action. Conveniently, business owners can forgo removing the barrier for years, so long as they have made “substantial progress.” Now imagine if under the Civil Rights Act, business owners could continue banning people of color from their establishment so long as they’re making “substantial progress” in not being racist.
H.R. 620 eliminates any legal incentive for businesses to comply with the ADA — and could possibly make people with disabilities less likely or willing to file accessibility complaints. It is the view of the DI Editorial Board that this path to improbable justice is not only tedious but dehumanizing. Requiring a person to undergo a bureaucratic process to possibly, sometimes within months or years, have their civil rights recognized, is abhorrently un-American.
Supporters of H.R. 620 (hint: many of them are businesses) shirk moral responsibility by claiming the bill strengthens the ADA. They claim that the bill is imperative in stopping “drive-by” lawsuits by people who just want money, not accessibility. While frivolous lawsuits are a problem, there are other ways to combat them without disadvantaging people with disabilities. Courts and bar examiners have the authority to shut down unscrupulous lawyers, a capacity that has long been established in cases of abusive lawsuits. Ultimately, this bill will serve its intended function: allowing businesses to delay their compliance with civil-rights law.
Businesses are legally obligated to operate within the means of tax laws, health laws, and safety laws. There is no reason that civil-rights laws should be an exception. The DI Editorial Board believes accessibility, synonymous with equal opportunity, is a right intrinsic to American values. Wheelchair ramps, lifts, accessible bathrooms, comprehensive evacuation plans, parking spaces, wide enough doors, adequate lighting, etc. are not “special perks” — they are legally mandated requirements that enable people with disabilities to participate in the public sphere. The Disability Rights Movement will continue to propel forward whether or not the ADA Education and Reform Act is passed. There is still so much work to be done. But opposing the passing of this heinous bill is a good place to start. Vehemently. Loudly. Patriotically.
The DI Editorial Board uses person-first language in this piece, but we acknowledge the autonomy of those in the disabled community to self-identify and do not intend to alienate those who proudly use