The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990. It is the most comprehensive disability rights legislation ever enacted. The ADA prohibits discrimination against a person with a disability in employment, public services, public accommodations, and telecommunications.
In the 28 years since its passage, an entire generation of people with disabilities have grown up knowing only its requirement for access. Yet, members of Congress continue to sponsor legislation that would restrict the ability of a person with a disability to enforce his or her right to access public accommodations, such as restaurants, hotels, and grocery stores, under the ADA. The latest version, the ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R.620), was introduced in January 2017 by Representative Ted Poe (R-TX). Proponents claim that this legislation, which subsequently passed the House this February, is needed to protect small business owners from ADA lawsuits.
The bill prohibits lawsuits based on the failure of a business to remove an architectural barrier to access unless: (1) the aggrieved person has provided to the owners or operators a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier, and (2) the owners or operators fail to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier or they fail to remove the barrier or make substantial progress after providing such a description. The aggrieved person's notice must specify the circumstances under which public accommodation access was denied.
This ill-informed legislation would require people with disabilities to jump through numerous procedural hoops before they can file a lawsuit to protect their rights. It also would remove any reason for businesses to proactively comply with the ADA. Businesses could simply wait until a customer confronts a barrier and has completed the detailed notification process. There would be no incentive for a business to learn about ADA compliance and take steps prior to notification. “Wait and see” would become the norm.
Instead of waiting to be notified about their violations, businesses should learn about their responsibilities under the law. The federal government funds the ADA National Network, which is comprised of 10 regional centers. The ADA centers provide free resources and technical assistance to businesses about how to comply with the law.
In mid-June, PVA national advocacy staff attended the annual ADA National Symposium in Pittsburgh. The Symposium was sponsored by the ADA National Network and hosted by the Great Plains ADA Center. It included three days of educational breakout sessions providing updates on the many facets of the ADA. Breakout sessions were presented on topics such as service animals, mapping and way finding, and the most recent ADA court decisions.
Businesses must avail themselves of the resources available to learn about their requirements under the ADA. The resources, technical assistance, and conferences available through the ADA National Network are invaluable to helping businesses meet the law’s requirements. Public accommodations can also work with disability organizations like PVA to learn more about how to ensure people with disabilities are able to access their businesses.
Laws that would gut the ADA’s requirements must be stopped. In March, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and 42 of her colleagues sent a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) expressing opposition to H.R. 620. This public opposition means that any efforts to move ADA legislation that includes a notification requirement and cure period in the Senate would be up against very difficult odds. Although the time left in the congressional calendar for this session is limited, we must remain vigilant to guard against the possibility of this or similar legislation gaining momentum.
To read more about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s advocacy efforts for the ADA, please visit www.pva.org/americans-with-disabilities-act.