NCD Letter to House Leadership Regarding "ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017"

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September 12, 2017

The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House
United States House of Representatives
H-232, U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515 

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi
Democratic Leader
United States House of Representatives
H-204, U.S. Capitol
Washington, D.C. 20515 

Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability (NCD) -- an independent, non-partisan federal agency with a mission to advise the President, Congress and other federal agencies regarding disability policy – to strongly advise against the proposed policies of H.R. 620, the “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017,” which was voted out of the Judiciary Committee last week.

NCD’s own history is inextricably linked to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In its advisory role to policymakers, in the 1980s, NCD identified the need for broad civil rights legislation that would protect the rights of people with disabilities in employment, public services and public accommodations, and later helped to draft the legislation that would become the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 

NCD advises against the proposed policies of H.R. 620 for several reasons. First, it shifts the burden of ensuring compliance with the ADA to individuals with disabilities while allowing business owners to remain out of compliance until they are alerted to the lack of access by a customer who encounters a barrier. Second, the bill allows access discrimination to continue for half a year before an aggrieved party may file suit. The bill does this by giving business owners 60 days to explain how he or she intends to fix the problem and comply with the ADA and an additional 120 days to make substantial progress towards doing so. Only then would an aggrieved individual who has been denied access be given the right to file suit. Finally, although H.R. 620 is ostensibly aimed at discouraging ADA claims that are without merit, it effectively discourages all ADA claims by making the process of filing suit lengthier and more onerous than any other civil rights statute, thereby rendering the ADA a less effective civil rights law.

It is vital to remember that the ADA was drafted with input from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups representing the interests of businesses large and small as well as groups representing people with disabilities and other stakeholders. Twenty-seven years ago, this good-faith, bipartisan effort lead to the passage of one of the most significant pieces of civil rights legislation in this nation’s history.

Since the time of its passage, a generation of adults with disabilities has grown up in a country that has been transformed by the ADA. They can now expect to be able to go to a movie, get a medical check-up, shop for clothes and go to restaurants with their families and friends. When they face barriers to accessing a public accommodation, it can be a disheartening and disenfranchising experience for which the ADA provides the equitable remedy of injunctive relief as well as reasonable attorney fees. For many years, NCD has consistently recommended Congress reject legislation that would allow businesses to shirk their responsibility for proactively ensuring that they meet the requirements of the ADA – particularly given that the language of the ADA was a bipartisan compromise of parties in the first place.

Opening a business and inviting the public in to engage in commerce necessarily requires a basic level of knowledge about the legal obligations imposed on the type of business. Business owners must know things like the taxes they are obligated to pay; health and building codes with which they must comply; and laws that restrict their right to refuse to serve individuals who are members of a protected class. The ADA requires that business owners ensure that they are accessible to individuals with disabilities or that accessibility problems in buildings pre-dating the ADA are addressed so long as making the changes does not impose an undue burden on the business. Information regarding ADA obligations is readily available, and the requirements are neither subjective nor arbitrary.

While the specificity of the 2010 ADA standards may seem daunting, these established standards give a business owner all the tools needed to ensure that individuals with a wide range of disabilities will have no difficulty accessing their goods and services, which benefits the business as well as the customer. These standards are widely available--literally a click away for the majority of business owners who rely on computers and smart phones.[1] Additionally, information and assistance is available from ten regional ADA Technical Assistance Centers that provide information and referral, training, consultation, and technical assistance to the business, state and local government, and disability communities about their responsibilities and rights under the ADA. 

Since the passage of the ADA, people with a variety of disabilities can go through life expecting to be able to participate in the day-to-day life of their community and to access the goods and services they need every day. As President George H.W. Bush articulated when he signed the ADA in 1990, the ability to enforce this obligation is the key to the ADA’s guarantee of “…fair and just access to the fruits of American life which we all must be able to enjoy.”[2] H.R. 620 weakens this guarantee and makes it less likely that the ADA will be an effective tool for achieving equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for Americans with disabilities.

For these reasons, we strongly advise against the policies of H.R. 620 and urge you to reject the bill.

Regards,

Clyde Terry
Chairperson

 




[2] Remarks of President George H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990.