Amended disability bill takes us back to a darker time

Amended disability bill takes us back to a darker time
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This week Congress is expected to vote on H.R. 620: ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. Its purpose is to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. As people with family members who are disabled, fear strikes our hearts when we see the word “reform” in regards to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  

The truth is, this bill isn’t about making things better for people with disabilities. Instead, this bill is about using previous lawsuits filed against business owners to go after the rights of people with disabilities.

This bill eliminates the requirements for businesses to be ADA access compliant, and erects barriers for people who want to assure that their ADA rights are respected in the United States. Businesses will no longer need to be proactive to assure accessibility (barrier-free access) for the public.


If this law is enacted, individuals who find a business inaccessible will have to file in a written complaint about the area that needs to be addressed.

The notice has to include whether the barrier is temporary or permanent, and it has to state the exact part of the law that is being violated. Once the notice is filed, business will have up to 180 days to address the complaint, either by fixing it or simply make progress toward fixing it.

We believe that most people would have to hire a lawyer to assist in writing and filing a notice about a violation of an architectural barrier. What does all of this mean to a person who already faces many barriers in their day-to-day life? It means more barriers and added cost.

Sadly, the words education and reform are misused in this bill. These words are used to camouflage how damaging this bill is for people who already face multiple challenges. The bill's language is contrary to providing uplifting educational opportunities and positive reform.

In 1990, when President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act, the United States started on a journey to become a more accessible place for people with disabilities. Over the past 27 years, Americans have worked to honor this law. Now parts of this law are at risk of being dismantled. We, as a nation, risk returning to survival-of-the-fittest, where accommodating an individual with a disability becomes an issue of charity, not one of basic human rights.

There are 53 million adults in the United States who have a disability; that's more than one in five. Moreover, older people are at even greater risk of being affected by this law, as one in three people who are 65 or older report at least one disability. Mobility is cited as the most common disability for older Americans.

While we do not dispute that small business owners also have rights, it is important to understand the history of H.R. 620. This legislation was created in part to protect business owners.

A small number of individuals and law firms have filed lawsuits, sometimes excessive lawsuits, that have been deemed frivolous and punitive by some business owners. However, in specific cases where there has been inappropriate use of lawsuits around the ADA, courts have demonstrated the ability to address those concerns.

Instead of putting additional burdens on a person with disabilities, we urge our Congress members to not vote for Bill H.R. 620. Instead, we should move forward making it easy for business owners to become ADA compliant, and reward them for doing so.

We want our family members and friends who have life-altering disabilities to not have to face more challenges, but instead have greater accessibility. America needs to continue to lead the world in regards to how we treat people who have disabilities.

H.R. 620 takes us backwards to a darker time, when civil rights of people with disabilities were disregarded.

Susan Weber Buchholz, PhD, RN is a professor at Rush University College of Nursing, and is an adult nurse practitioner and a physical activity researcher. She is a Public Voices Fellow through the OpEd Project. Sarah H. Ailey, PhD, RN is a professor at Rush University College of Nursing and a NIH funded researcher and national advocate for people with disabilities.