October 5, 2022

House Republicans just mounted a sneak attack on disabled people’s rights

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House Republicans mounted a sneak attack on the civil rights of disabled Americans with H.R. 620 which will allow businesses to stop complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).


Texas GOP Rep. Ted Poe is leading the quiet push to force disabled Americans to wait up to six months before filing suit under the ADA when a covered business won’t give equal access to the disabled. Businesses have had 30 years to comply with the ADA requirements by now, but this legislation will put a halt to any further private accommodations to people who have trouble walking.

Even worse, Rep. Poe’s legislation will turn the ADA’s compliance mechanism on its head by shifting the burden of compliance from proactive to whenever a business feels like making their premises accessible to the physically challenged. The ACLU writes:

H.R. 620 would completely change the way in which a business is required to comply with the ADA. Instead of requiring that a business comply proactively, the bill would place the burden on the individual who is being denied access. This bill proposes that after an individual with a disability is denied access she must first notify the business owner, with exacting specificity, that her civil rights were violated, and then wait for six months to see if the business will make “substantial progress” toward access, before going to a court to order compliance.

Business owners can spend years out of compliance and face no penalty even after they receive notice, so long as the owners claim “substantial progress.” By allowing a business an endless amount of time to become compliant with the ADA’s reasonable requirements, H.R. 620 removes any incentive for a business to proactively ensure that people with disabilities have access. Instead, the bill encourages businesses to just wait until an individual’s civil rights are violated before making any changes.

Civil rights lawsuits are the only way to enforce the ADA’s right of access to public accommodations including private businesses, which used to exclude those in wheelchairs and people with mobility problems, and which today includes a growing population of aging baby boomers.

It’s no surprise that disability activists have been getting arrested in the halls of Congress this week, while peaceably opposing this Republican plan to make them second-class citizens.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) just put out a statement opposing the GOP bill for sidelining the hard-won civil rights of millions of Americans:

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“For more than a quarter of a century, the Americans with Disabilities Act has advanced our nation’s mission to build a fair, equal and just future for all.  This milestone law has transformed the lives of the 55 million Americans who live with a disability, and shattered barriers to full participation in society.  Congress should be building on that progress, not undermining it.

“This discriminatory bill harms the civil rights of people with disabilities, and sets a troubling precedent that would harm the rights of all who rely on civil rights laws.”

“The ADA is the only civil rights law that does not give a right to damages, but it requires a plaintiff who wants to make a change to spend his or her time to get injunctive relief,” says attorney Matthew Dietz who runs the Disability Independence Group, a legal services non-profit based in Miami.

As to this bill, it’s mean-spirited. No one knows what ‘substantial progress’ is, which will make many cases non-viable depending on the belief of an able-bodied judge,” says Dietz. “With the additional barriers to enforcement, it will gut any viable enforcement of the barrier removal provisions of the ADA.”

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The House is set to vote on H.R. 620 this Thursday.

Civil rights activists and groups are busy Tweeting about you can do to make a difference and to support the right of equal access to public places for all Americans from all walks of life, including those who need special accommodation just to make it in the door

Here is what you can do to make a difference:

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