NCD Letter to House Leadership Advising Against H.R. 620

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February 9, 2018

The Honorable Paul Ryan
Speaker of the House
United States House of Representatives
H-232, The Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

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

Dear Speaker Ryan and Leader Pelosi:

I write on behalf of the National Council on Disability to restate our position that H.R. 620 (“ADA Education and Reform Act”), which is expected to be taken up by the full House in coming days, undermines the civil rights of people with disabilities by undermining the American Disabilities Act (ADA). As I, along with past chairs of NCD spanning several decades and representing both parties, averred in our September 13th, 2016 letter to Congress, this bill represents a “dangerous, misguided national policy ’solution’ ill-fit to a state law problem that is aggressively opposed by virtually every disability-related organization and should be soundly rejected by this Congress.”[1]

The ADA was signed into law in 1990 after passing in the Senate (76-8), and by the House of Representatives by unanimous voice vote. The reason that the bill achieved such overwhelming support was that after the bill was first proposed in an NCD report in 1986, a variety of groups, including the business community, civil rights organizations, and legislators from across the political spectrum, worked together to finalize legislation that balanced the need to make it possible for people with disabilities to access goods and services in the community with consideration of any burden on businesses.

Proponents of H.R 620 argue that the ADA has become a tool of vexatious litigants who use it to extort money from well-meaning business owners who have made every attempt to comply with the law. However, as we have argued previously, this is a false narrative. The ADA expressly provides that business owners only have to make their facilities accessible to the extent that is “readily achievable” and does not constitute “undue burden.” These legal standards represent the disability community’s original compromise with the business community and demonstrate the good faith process that was undertaken when the ADA was passed nearly 30 years ago. Furthermore, the ADA does not entitle plaintiffs to civil damages if they are successful in suing a business under Title III, so there is little incentive for potential litigants to sue other than to hold the business accountable for failing to comply with the long-standing requirements of the ADA. Some states do allow for money damages under state civil rights statutes, which seems to be a key driver behind some of the lawsuits that have received national scrutiny. However, this problem is not one that exists in the federal law, and therefore weakening the ADA will not address the problem it purports to solve.

Furthermore, while language in the bill suggests that businesses have not been made aware of the requirements of the ADA nor have sufficient technical assistance to comply, there are already ten regional ADA Technical Assistance Centers that are funded by the Federal Government to provide businesses and communities with technical assistance regarding ADA compliance. These resources have been available for decades. Additionally, the Department of Justice maintains a website, ADA.gov, which details the obligations of businesses, employers and state and local governments under the ADA and provides useful resources. Businesses that hold themselves open to the public have been required to be accessible to people with disabilities for almost three decades, and excellent and extensive technical assistance resources have long been available to facilitate compliance.

The ADA has changed the lives of people with disabilities in virtually every area of life over the past thirty years. People with disabilities can work, go shopping, go out to eat, attend movies, sporting events, concerts and theater and participate in civic life in ways that were impossible before the ADA. Many businesses are in compliance with the ADA and have great relationships with their customers with disabilities, which benefits the business, their customers, and the community. Giving businesses that are not in compliance with the ADA six months to make “substantial progress” towards compliance removes the incentive to comply from the moment the business opens its doors and rewards businesses both large and small which have chosen to disregard federal law. When President George H.W. Bush signed the ADA, he noted the moment by saying, “Let the shameful walls of exclusion finally come tumbling down.” H.R. 620 revises that sentiment to give businesses that are inaccessible six or more months to remove their shameful walls of exclusion. It sends the message to Americans with disabilities that as a national policy, we believe some Americans should have to wait to fully participate in society alongside their peers without disabilities.

As we have done many times before when legislation that undermines the ADA has come under consideration in the House, NCD now urges you and your colleagues in Congress to reject this misguided legislation and uphold the right of Americans with disabilities to live, work, and thrive in their communities by upholding the disability community’s most cherished civil rights law.

 

Regards,

Clyde Terry
Chairperson