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Will the US Weaken its Disability Laws?

House to Vote on Bill Protecting Businesses Over Persons with Disabilities

Protesters with ADAPT, a disabled people's rights organization, stage a demonstration at the gates of the White House in Washington, April 20, 2015. © 2015 Reuters

A bill that would very deliberately undermine the protections afforded under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) could come to a vote in the US House of Representatives soon.

The ADA requires owners of businesses open to the public – like restaurants, hospitals, and hotels – to make sure they were accessible for people with disabilities. If they fail to do so, a person with disabilities can enforce their rights either by taking the business to court, or by filing a complaint with the US Department of Justice. However, the dangerous ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620), which the House Judiciary Committee approved last week, would dramatically increase the burden on any person with a disability who seeks to vindicate their rights.

This is how the new bill would look: If someone in, say, a wheelchair comes to a movie theater without a ramp or elevator, they would be required to give the business owner a written notice. Then, the business owner would have two months to respond and another four months to take some steps to address the violation. Only then, half a year later, could the person whose rights are at stake try to force the business to comply with the ADA and be held accountable.

This new bill would incentivize businesses dragging their feet to comply with the ADA’s accessibility obligations. It would also act as a profound deterrent to people looking to enforce their rights under the ADA. Already under existing law, the onus is mostly on them to trigger enforcement and accountability. Under H.R. 620, that burden would be compounded by months of delay and new bureaucratic hurdles. Many people would likely give up rather than put themselves through all that – and perhaps that’s exactly the point.

The United States has the obligation to ensure businesses do not discriminate against people with disabilities. Yet H.R. 620 would actually create more obstacles for them to access justice. 

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