Tomorrow there will be a committee hearing in the House of Representatives on H.R. 620, or the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. Here is some information for you about what this bill does and what it means.
What it does
- Establishes a “notice and cure period” in which a person with a disability who finds architectural barriers to access at a business must provide notice to the business in question before proceeding with civil litigation. The notice must include:
- Description “in detail” of the circumstances under which the person was denied access
- The address of the property at which the barrier occurred
- The specific sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act that have been violated
- Whether the person requested assistance in removing an architectural barrier
- Whether the barrier to access was permanent or temporary
- Directs the Judicial Conference of the United States to create an alternative dispute resolution program to resolve claims of architectural barriers.
Why it matters
The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in place for over 25 years. All business owners should, at this point, be at least vaguely familiar with what the law requires them to do. The threat of immediate civil litigation is a way of motivating business owners to be proactive in making reasonable accommodations and maintaining accessibility. Putting in place a system in which a business must be notified of the violation and given an opportunity to fix it before litigation might sound okay, but we have to think about the lowest common denominator. There are a lot of business owners that simply won’t bother with making accommodations and ensuring accessibility until a complaint is made. This is actively limiting the extent to which people with disabilities can fully participate in society.
Further, the notice requirements are simply unreasonable. The intention of this bill is to limit costly civil litigation, but this just adds one more expense for people with disabilities. The requirements pretty much necessitate that someone hire an attorney just to write this notice, which is putting the financial burden of ensuring ADA compliance on the person with a disability.
Finally, the entire thing is actually rather inaccessible to a lot of people with disabilities. Someone who has severe depression on top of their other disabilities, for example, may not have the emotional health necessary to jump through all of these hoops. Sure, filing an ADA lawsuit is still a process as it is now, but adding more steps to that process is making ADA protections inaccessible. Which defeats the entire point. Also, asking whether someone requested assistance in removing an architectural barrier is victim-blaming. We shouldn’t be putting the burden of seeking access onto people with disabilities. Businesses have been required to comply with accessibility requirements for a long time. When they neglect to do so, it is not the responsibility of the victim of that neglect to repair the situation.
What you can do about it
Contact your representatives via phone, fax, email, Twitter, Facebook, and any other platforms you wish. You can find all of this contact information by visiting contactingcongress.org. More talking points and resources can also be found here.