Nearly one in five Americans are currently living with a disability, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That is about 56.7 million people.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. However, on Feb. 15, the House of Representatives voted to pass bill H.R.620 – the ADA Education and Reform Act.
This act would effectively undermine the provisions outlined by the ADA, which would cause a protected class — those with disabilities — to become vulnerable to inequality. Over 200 disability rights supporters signed a letter opposing this bill, as reported by Newsweek.
According to Congress.gov, Section III of the bill mandates that a person cannot file a lawsuit against a business for failing to provide public accommodations for disability until a written notice has been given to the business. The business then has 60 days to develop a plan to comply with the notice and then another 120 days to implement any necessary improvements.
By requiring the individual to provide written notice to a business for an accessibility violation, the burden is then left to those denied access rather than the establishment who is denying the access. The timeline of the bill is also an unreasonable period for a person with a disability to wait to have their civil rights enforced. The total of 180 days before improvements are required to be made only serves to lengthen the inaccessibility.
The bill is intended to discourage opportunistic lawyers from “taking advantage” of businesses by using the ADA to authenticate frivolous lawsuits. In fact, the Seyfarth ADA Title III News & Insights Blog estimated that ADA Title III lawsuits increased by 37 percent in 2016. Title III of the ADA specifically outlines provisions for “nondiscrimination on the basis of disability by public accommodations and in commercial facilities.”
Despite the bill’s aim to reduce impractical lawsuits, the ADA Education and Reform Act could botch the very provisions the ADA intends to enforce. By removing the threat of the law, businesses may cease to comply with ADA regulations.
People with disabilities should not be responsible for ensuring that businesses adhere to civil rights laws either.
This bill does not appear to remove the ability for a lawsuit to be filed for a civil rights violation. However, it does appear to make it harder for people with disabilities to be granted the access that ADA regulations require businesses to already provide. Lengthening a period of inaccessibility only serves to deepen inequality. Accessibility should be a right, not a written request.
Instead of attacking the law meant to protect and ensure equal access to people with disabilities, the attorneys and lawsuits this bill intends to discourage should be addressed within the state or the court rather than the ADA.
A law meant to protect those with disabilities should not be tampered with in order to punish opportunistic lawyers. ADA is the the primary authority for disabled people in the U.S. to undermine its policies is to undermine the civil rights of a protected class.
Paige Wisniewski is a junior majoring in interdisciplinary sciences.