Since 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has provided strong protections to people with disabilities, vastly improving the accessibility of buildings. Stores, restaurants and other businesses built ramps and made other accessibility changes because the law required the changes and the owners knew that courts would hold them accountable for violations. Now, some members of Congress want to make fundamental changes to the ADA.
H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (Proposed Legislation), which has already passed the House Judiciary Committee, fundamentally dilutes the protections of the ADA. Essentially, the Proposed Legislation would shift the burden of protecting the right to access a public place to the person with the disability. The individual, after being denied access, must determine that violations of the law have occurred and provide the business with specific notice of which provisions of the law were violated. The aggrieved person must then give the business an unspecified period to correct the problem.
This Proposed Legislation would eliminate an important provision of the ADA by preventing people with disabilities from immediately going to court to enforce their rights and to press for timely removal of the barrier that impedes access. It would require people with disabilities to provide businesses that are out of compliance with the ADA with an indeterminate amount of time to fix the violations before they file a lawsuit.
Proponents of the Proposed Legislation say that well-intentioned business owners should have notice and an opportunity to fix an issue before facing a lawsuit. Proponents note that some business owners may believe they are in compliance with the ADA, but may be out of compliance in a minor way.
Opponents of the Proposed Legislation argue, among other things, that other protected classes under civil rights law can rely on strong enforcement to guarantee access to public spaces. There is no reason the disability community should have the burden of educating businesses about their obligations under the law. People with disabilities note that the ADA– a long-standing civil rights law—should serve as the only notice required. Businesses can easily avoid ADA lawsuits by meeting their obligations under the law. As one example, over two-hundred members and allies of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) have written a letter in opposition to the proposed legislation. The National Disability Rights Network has provided a tool for you to contact your Representative if you have concerns.