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The House of Representatives Just Voted to Gut the Americans with Disabilities Act

Shutterstock image of a gender-neutral restroom sign with wheelchair accessibility

The U.S. House of Representatives just passed H.R. 620, also known as the ADA Education and Reform Act, which changes a major provision of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to make life easier for … businesses that aren’t complying with that law. 

You honestly can’t make this garbage up.

The ADA currently requires that business comply with its provisions proactively. Just as with federal laws against gender and race discrimination, businesses are expected to understand and apply the tenets of the ADA simply because it’s the law. However, under H.R. 260, anyone who wants to sue a business for not being accessible would first have to provide the business with written notice that it was breaking the law. After receiving that notice, the business would then have 60 days to come up with a plan to fix the problem, and 120 days to actually take action to fix it.

As the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD), a coalition of approximately 100 disability rights organizations, observed, this bill would make it so that disability rights are treated fundamentally differently from other rights. If I sue my company for gender discrimination, I don’t have to first give them a warning letter explaining what sexism is and how they’re guilty of it. It’s my employer’s responsibility to understand the law and comply with it.

H.R. 260 flips this paradigm. Instead, it’s now the responsibility of people with disabilities to understand their rights and advocate for them. In their letter of opposition, the CCD laid out the absurd injustice of this proposal: “The bill’s proponents purport to protect business owners from the burden of understanding and complying with rules designed to ensure that people with disabilities could access public accommodations, on the ground that this burden is too heavy for businesses. Yet people with disabilities are expected to shoulder this burden and to provide businesses with information about the specific legal obligations that they are violating – after those individuals have been denied the access rights that Congress gave them decades ago.”

“We know of no other law,” the letter continues, “that outlaws 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. Such a regime is absurd, and would make people with disabilities second-class citizens.”

I do not personally have a disability that affects my life in any substantive way, so I’m certainly not the best person to speak about this. But I’ve lived in European countries which don’t have an equivalent of the ADA, and the difference in the prevalence of wheelchair ramps, elevators, and other accommodations is astonishing. Undercutting the core tenet of the ADA – that people with disabilities have rights which must be respected, period – will remove incentives to comply and result in a less accessible world.

One the most disappointing and disturbing thing about this bill? According to ADAPT, it only passed because 12 Democrats voted for it. Shame on them.

Just as the Senate rejected the House’s repulsive 20-week abortion ban, they must reject this cruel and discriminatory bill. Call your senators.

(via The Washington Post; image: Shutterstock)

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