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Opponents Say Bill Pending in Congress Weakens ADA Protections

Many people with disabilities turn to the Americans with Disabilities Act to provide access when they face barriers in their daily lives, but a bill pending in Congress could make that a longer and more difficult process. Photo: Pixabay

by Mark Richardson

AUSTIN, Texas – A bill aimed at strengthening the Americans with Disabilities Act may not be what it seems.

The U.S. House of Representatives could vote this week on HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, which would give businesses accused of not complying with the law a grace period to fix alleged infractions on their properties before they are subject to litigation. Proponents claim it will curb frivolous lawsuits, but Brian East, senior attorney with Disability Rights Texas, said he believes the new law, as written, is an attack on the civil rights of Americans with disabilities.

“Before filing a lawsuit, you have to submit this very detailed notice. Then, you have to wait two months to see if you’re going to get a response,” he said. “If the response is, ‘I’m going to work on it,’ you have to wait another four months to see if they’ve made substantial progress.”

East said the proposed changes shift the burden of enforcement to the individuals being affected. He said they still won’t have access to the business or facility during the extended time period for compliance.

The full House could vote on the bill as early as Thursday.

Many business owners have said they believe people who file ADA lawsuits are only seeking money, but Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, said most lawsuits are well-intentioned efforts to make buildings more accessible.

“If this bill passed, it would be very, very damaging for the civil rights of people with disabilities,” she said. “It would mean businesses had no incentive to comply voluntarily with the law; businesses could just take a wait-and-see attitude.”

East said state lawmakers have already put a similar measure on the books in Texas.

“They did make a change in the last legislative session requiring this kind of pre-suit notice,” he said. “The difference there is, the Texas statute does provide for monetary relief; the ADA is about a court order to fix the barrier.”

Opponents also have noted that the bill now in Congress was drafted without consulting the disability-rights community.

Details of HR 620 are online at congress.gov.

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