If disability rights are civil rights, why is the House of Representatives debating harmful reforms to the Americans with Disabilities Act?

hr-620-outlineMany social workers I interact with express the idea that the civil rights of disabled people were taken care of with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). In their minds, that’s old news, a done deal. Not so fast! While the ADA was indeed a landmark law, what many people are not aware of is that there is a powerful move underway to “reform” that law in ways that will undermine the disability community.

Known as H.R. 620, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017,” passage of this law would mean that disabled people would have to petition inaccessible public accomodations such as restaurants, shops and social service agencies for access. The petition would allow the inaccessible location to make “substantial progress” on removing a barrier to access within 6 months of notice. How long have you had to wait to go to the bathroom, go shopping, or meet with friends in a public place? Advocates insist that this “reform” does not value the rights of disabled people as humans worthy of going about their day like anyone else. Here are six things you need to know about this “reform” effort. This act…

  1. Takes away incentives for voluntary compliance with the ADA…
  2. Actually would reward non-compliance with the ADA by allowing businesses generous additional timelines to address accomodations, despite the fact that they have had almost 30 years to meet the requirements of the law that was carefully to consider the needs of the business community.
  3. Spreads the inaccurate word that financial damages requested from businesses are part of the ADA, when in reality, that is under the purview of state, not the ADA, a federal law
  4. Does not encourage the use of all of the comprehensive and free resources designed for businesses on how to comply with the ADA
  5. Argues that reform is needed due to a landslide of frivolous lawsuits, when in fact these are a minority of ADA-related lawsuits filed and there are already mechanisms in place to address such situations. Most ADA attorneys seek solutions to real situations in which people are denied access.
  1. Is supported by the big business lobby under the guise of protecting local “mom and pop” shops.

Disability civil rights advocates concur that this “reform” opens the door to dismantling the ADA. Consider broadening your advocacy lens to include awareness of disability rights – which are civil and human rights!

You can make a difference in supporting the civil rights of disabled people by getting in touch with your representative in Washington DC now – as there will be a vote in the House of Representatives on this “reform” during the week of February 12, 2018. For more information, visit the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund