Disability Advocates Protest New Bill Weakening Americans With Disabilities Act

On Tuesday, disability advocates from ADAPT protested a committee hearing for H.R. 620 the ADA Education and Reform Act. The bill would make filing complaints under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) a lengthier process for people with disabilities.

The bill will prohibit people with disabilities from taking immediate civil action when they are discriminated against due to “architectural barriers,” a form of discrimination recognized under ADA. Currently, taking civil action includes filing a complaint with the Department of Justice or filing a lawsuit under the ADA.

H.R. 620 would delay civil action by making the person with a disability provide a written notice to the owner of the business that includes the following:

  1. The address of the property
  2. The specific ADA sections alleged to have been violated
  3. Whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier was made
  4. Whether the barrier was permanent or temporary.

“They have to go through a very burdensome process, notifying the business owner, jumping through all these other legal hurdles before they’re able to assert their legal rights to gain access,” Tyler Ray from the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Washington legislative office, told The Mighty.

During Tuesday’s meeting, ADAPT activists chanted, “Don’t take our rights away, hands off the ADA.” A police officer is seen with zip-tie cuffs, and someone says that people are being arrested before the video ends.

The bill removes a key provision of the ADA by keeping people from going to court to enforce their civil rights, the ACLU wrote of H.R. 620. The bill could also prevent timely removal of accessibilities barriers and only calls for the business owner to make “substantial progress” on fixing the accessibility issue. “Without this critical enforcement mechanism, compliance under the ADA will suffer and people with disabilities will be denied the access to which they are entitled to under the law,” the ACLU noted.

Support from this bill comes from those who believe it will cut down on “frivolous lawsuits” filed by lawyers to take advantage of the ADA and non-compliant businesses. However, the ACLU said that this is a myth, and that the “true purpose of this bill is to allow businesses to delay meeting their obligations under the law – for weeks, months, or longer – at the expense of people with disabilities.”

People with disabilities have been protesting the bill since it was introduced last year, spawning hashtags including #OpposeHR620, #CripTheVote, and #HandsOffMyADA.

Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who also has a disability, voiced her opposition to the bill in an op-ed for The Washington Post. She said that this legislation “would send a disgraceful message to Americans with disabilities that their civil rights are not worthy of strong enforcement.”

Duckworth said the bill would make Americans with disabilities second-class citizens by moving “the burden of ADA compliance away from business owners and onto individuals with disabilities.”

Duckworth actively tweets her opposition to the bill.

After making it out of committee on Tuesday, the House voted to pass H.R. 620 on Thursday. The bill will still need support from the Senate.

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