An “Education and Reform Act” That Doesn’t Educate or Reform
On February 15, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass H.R.620 — ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. In my humble opinion, this bill will make it more difficult for people with disabilities to have equal opportunity to employment, access consumer goods and services, and participate in State and Local government.
While the bill doesn’t change any of the stated protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), it does take away the incentive for businesses to comply in an effective and timely way. The legislation introduces a significant hurdle to those wishing to sue businesses for ADA accessibility violations. It also sends the message that people with disabilities are second-class citizens who’s rights must be actually violated before correcting (and then issuing a lengthy process in order to even request it to be corrected).
Section 3 of the Act outlines the process that people with disabilities (or their representatives) must follow before legal action can take place. They would first need to file an official written complaint to the business owner/operator before filing a lawsuit or gaining access to the public space. The business then has 60 days to respond to the written complaint and another 60 days (four months in total!) to address the issue at hand, if valid. To comply, the issue itself doesn’t even necessarily have to be fixed, the business just needs to show “substantial progress” has been made to try to fix the issue. There’s a definition out there and I’m sure there will subsequently be a set of guidelines for what constitutes “substantial progress” but, for now, I’m defining it as a truck load of BS. What does “substantial progress” even mean if it’s still not fully accessible?
On the surface, supporters of the bill share a fair and legitimate point. There is a serious problem with lawyers (surprise, surprise!) that seek to profit by threatening businesses with litigation over ADA compliance. They will unscrupulously settle accessibility lawsuits for large cash sums without ever actually seeking to improve or gain access for people with disabilities. This sucks! It’s a terrible situation for businesses, courts, and people with or without disabilities.
The issue must be addressed but this bill is not the way to do it. Disability activists and members of Congress that voted against the bill object that it may not even deter the frivolous lawsuits it’s meant to protect against. The way it is written, it can really only delay them. I’m sorry, but that outcome is just not worth taking a step back in the fight against disability discrimination and universal accessibility.
As Recruiting and HR professionals, we have a chance to make up for what the passage of this recent bill signifies explicitly or implicitly. I’ve posted about it before and I know I probably will again, but we must go beyond simply adhering to legislation and look to create real opportunities for people with disabilities. We can support the disability activist movement through voting and providing resources to the many non-profit groups helping those with disabilities. We can be advocates with each of our own organization’s Technology, Workplace, & Facilities partners to promote accessibility for all. And, perhaps most importantly, we can identify meaningful employment opportunities for people of all abilities.
We don’t need legislation to tell us what’s right, let’s do it ourselves!
If you don’t know, now you know…a little more background on the ADA: The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law in 1990, by President George H.W. Bush. The ADA is one of America’s most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation that prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else. Modeled after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin — and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — the ADA is an “equal opportunity” law for people with disabilities. [from https://www.ada.gov/ada_intro.htm]