Are Disability Rights in Jeopardy?

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Are Disability Rights in Jeopardy?

It seems like any decent person would want to support efforts to make life a little easier for people with disabilities. Unfortunately, this isn't necessarily the case. While recent events are raising a lot of concerns, advocates have been raising hell. In February of this year, you may have heard of ten disability rights activists that protested in the Capital until they were forcibly arrested.  This has happened less than a year after disability advocates were arrested without their wheelchairs due to a staged "die in" to fight the new healthcare bill.

What about the ADA?

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA), has been placed on the chopping block over the last year. As many know, the ADA was enacted less than 30 years ago to allow individuals with disabilities to have more equal opportunity, support for full participation in the community, strengthened ability to live more independently, and a real chance for economic self-sufficiency. Many younger generations have grown to view these rights as a common-sense "given" that is worthy of enforcement for the greater good. Most have only heard of the struggles that were endured by individuals with disabilities in the past.

What's Threatening Our Disability Rights?

Sadly, it seems that negligence towards the disabled is being justified by some people in high positions in our government and some big businesses appear to be ready to jump on the bandwagon. Here are few things to be aware of:

  • Development of H.R. 620.
    • Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) introduced the H.R. 620 (aka the ADA Education and Reform Act) and it was accepted in the House Judiciary Committee.
    • As of February this year, there hasn't been much comfort in knowing that the U.S. House of Representatives (Republican majority since 2014) voted to pass the controversial bill H.R.620. (225 yay, 192 nay)
    • H.R. 620 has been stalled in the Senate for an indefinite amount of time due to 43 Democratic Senators that were ready to filibuster. One key individual that has helped prevent H.R. 620 from going to a vote is Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).
  • A recent development since the introduction of this bill is that Delta Airlines has instituted a new policy that will require any person with a service or support animal to complete documentation to register the animal 48 hours prior to the flight. This severely limits some individuals if they should need to urgently fly somewhere for emergencies for family, business, or any other reason.

Give Me Details! What is the ADA Education and Reform Act H.R. 620?

It's basically a fancy and misleading name that loosens regulations that have required public businesses and facilities to include basic accommodations for people with disabilities. Here's how it would work:

  1. Once a person with a disability finds that a facility doesn't offer accommodations, the burden is on them to take the time to write a complaint to the business and then they can simply wait for the change to hopefully happen, but they cannot expect change for less than six months.
  2. Every business that has opted to forego accommodations up to this point would have 60 days to respond once they receive the written complaint.  
  3. After the 60 days are up, the business gets an additional 120 days to make "substantial progress", a term that is not clearly defined in the bill. This lack of definition could be a gaping loophole.

Argument Supporting H.R. 620

Supporters of the new bill are arguing from a standpoint that expresses concern about money and fraud. They have argued that:

  • Since the ADA allows people with disabilities to legally attack businesses with lawsuits regarding the lack of accommodations, there are many lawsuits that are allegedly frivolous.
  • Many of these lawsuits that are made under the ADA that are really fake lawsuits by greedy people that want to take money from businesses through faulty claims.

Argument Against H.R. 620

The rebuttal that the 43 opposing Senators told the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is, "They miss the point that this bill undermines the rights of people with disabilities, rather than protects them." Additionally, opponents of the bill argue that:

  • The bill degrades and discredits the pivotal Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Businesses have had 28 years to get their establishment up to code since the ADA was passed in 1990, so there is not really much of an excuse for why a business would still not meet basic ADA requirements in this day and age.
  • The Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities reached out to two Representatives, one Republican and one Democrat that were on the House Judiciary Committee. Their statement regarding this was, "We know of no other law that outlawed discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity until victims experience that discrimination and educate the entities perpetrating it about their obligations not to discriminate."
  • Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) wrote an article in the Washington Post about how this new bill could render the disabled community to be "the only protected class under civil rights law that must rely on ‘education' — rather than strong enforcement — to guarantee access to public spaces."
  • The claim regarding the hundreds of seemingly fraudulent cases brought by hundreds of lawyers has been researched by the Center for American Progress, and the senior fellow of the organization reported to CNN that they believe they have only found 12 lawyers, whose names have not been made readily available to the public.

The Facts

Whatever stance is chosen, and whatever factors awaiting validation, the facts we know of are simply the facts:  

  • There are already measures in place to punish and prevent lawyers from making fraudulent cases, and the matters should be taken up with the state bar associations or district courts. This issue could be handled without more federal government intervention.
  • The reality about ADA lawsuits is that plaintiffs cannot collect any monetary damages other than attorney's fees. So, in other words, no disabled person financially benefits from a lawsuit—they only benefit by increasing accessibility.  

Legal Options

At this time, things are still uncertain about the situation regarding H.R 620, so if this is an issue you care about, it is worthwhile to add your voice in support of upholding the ADA.  Regardless of the outcome, however, any discrimination against people with disabilities should be prosecuted so that the offending party acknowledges what they have failed to do and makes things right for the betterment of society. If you or someone you care about has encountered discrimination due to a disability, reach out to one of our qualified and dedicated lawyers. You can make a difference.


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