The Americans with Disabilities Act may be changed. Call your legislators!

UPDATE: 2/15/18: This bill passed in the federal House of Representatives. Contact your senators! Find their contact info here.

Whatever your opinion on this bill, please call your legislators and make your voice heard. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is important, and any changes to it need to be made with the participation of as many citizens as possible. The federal House of Representatives may vote as early as February 14, 2018.

The bill is H.R. 620, “ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017.” It was introduced on January 24, 2017, sponsored by Rep. Ted Poe (a Republican) of Texas. Representatives from both political parties have cosponsored it. Over 200 disability rights organizations, including the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, have spoken out against it; over 18 trade organizations have spoken out in favor of it.

Some information is below. Please come to your own conclusions and share your opinion with your legislators, as soon and as often as possible.

At the bottom of this blog entry is a link to a site that will help you find your representatives’ contact information.

Proponents say H.R. 620 would decrease “drive-by lawsuits,” in which businesses are sued and sometimes forced to close due to minor alleged violations of the ADA. Ken Barnes, Executive Director of California Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, elaborates on this position in an article in Forbes Magazine here.

Many opponents say the bill would not in fact decrease any such lawsuits. They also say it would be a step backwards for the rights of people with disabilities, allowing businesses in violation of the ADA to “make substantial progress” (as the bill puts it) for what may be years without penalty—not an opportunity usually given to businesses denying rights to other groups. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) provides a “Myths and Truths” page here.

The bill is summarized on Congress’s website as follows:

This bill requires the Disability Rights Section of the Department of Justice to develop a program to educate state and local governments and property owners on strategies for promoting access to public accommodations for persons with a disability. The program may include training for professionals to provide a guidance of remediation for potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA).

The bill prohibits civil actions based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation unless: (1) the aggrieved person has provided to the owners or operators a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier, and (2) the owners or operators fail to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier or they fail to remove the barrier or make substantial progress after providing such a description. The aggrieved person’s notice must specify: (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, and (4) whether the barrier was permanent or temporary.

The Judicial Conference of the United States must develop a model program to promote alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve such claims. The model program should include an expedited method for determining relevant facts related to such barriers and steps to resolve accessibility issues before litigation.

Find a list of links to many statements against H.R. 620, posted on the web site of the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, here.

Find letters and articles written by proponents of H.R. 620 here.

The federal House of Representatives may vote on H.R. 620 as early as February 14, 2018. Email, call; make your voice heard!

Find your representatives’ contact information here.


Van inaccessible

My town held a large public event this week. Hundreds of people came, and every parking spot in the area was taken. Unfortunately, someone chose to park their car (the red one) here:

van inacessible

It’s hard to see in this photo, but the space next to the red car, where the minivan was parked, was marked with a handicap symbol and the words “VAN ACCESSIBLE.” Except, of course, the space wasn’t accessible at the time of this photo. The red car was taking up the space needed to unfold a ramp or lift.

I hope the person who’d parked their red car illegally came back to the parking lot first. I hope no one had to wait for them to arrive before being able to use a ramp or lift to get into the minivan and go home.

He knows about teeth, but…

When my grandmother Agnes, whom I called Nana, was in her 90s, she developed a dental problem that required surgery. She found a dental surgeon near her home who accepted her insurance and arranged for my mom to drive her to the appointment. On the day of the appointment Mom helped Nana down the hall and out the front door of her assisted living complex, got her and her walker into Mom’s car, and took her to the doctor’s office. There they found that at this doctor’s office, teeth would be the least of Nana’s problems.

Mom tells me about it: “We went up the elevator and then into the office, and there were two wide steps down. When we turned the corner, there were two more steps down.” For Nana this was a huge obstacle. She had had both hips and both knees replaced and walked with difficulty, even with the help of her walker. Mom remembers those four steps vividly: “She was not about to change her plans and see another doctor. She was moving forward! I just kind of held her around the waist while she went down. It was scary. She could have fallen. We both could have fallen! If she was in a wheelchair, we wouldn’t have been able to get to the doctor” at all.

“I asked the receptionist about another way to get to the doctor’s office,” Mom tells me. “I was greeted with a blank look—‘Huh?’—and then a strong answer, ‘Oh, there is no other way!’”

Once inside the examination room, Nana faced a different obstacle. After the doctor examined her, Mom remembers, he “looked at me and started telling me all about her mouth.” Nana was perfectly capable of conversing with and understanding the doctor; more importantly, she was a human being entitled to respect. White in her wavy hair and arthritis in her knees and hips had affected neither of those facts one bit. “I tried to redirect him,” Mom says. “I’m kicking myself now that I didn’t say forcefully, ‘Talk to Agnes. She’s your patient.’”

But Mom didn’t say that, and the doctor kept talking to her rather than Nana. Nana didn’t ‘fuss’ either. The surgery went forward, and Nana had her dental problem fixed. The other issues were never addressed.

Mom sighs with shame and defeat. “I guess he was a good dental surgeon, and he was in [her area].”

I want to believe society is changing. Nana is gone now and will never see it. But I want to believe that when Mom is in her 90s, she will be able to go to a doctor that sees her as a whole person, not just a broken body part.

Knocking on Deaf people’s doors

A Deaf woman is standing in a motel lobby, asking the manager some questions about the accommodations. She is planning a multi-day Deaf event soon, and is looking for a place the participants can stay. She speaks vocally and reads the manager’s lips.

Woman: Are there flashing lights on the fire alarms in the bedrooms?

Motel manager: In the bedrooms, no. In the halls, yes; in the bedrooms, no.

Woman: That’s important, because Deaf people need flashing lights on the alarms, so they can know if there’s a fire.

Motel manager: We don’t have flashing lights in the bedrooms. But don’t worry; anything happens, I come, I knock on your door.

Oh. Well okay then!

Icy Sidewalk

I saw the woman standing by herself, in the middle of the large cement-paved plaza. People rushed by in all directions, swerving around the woman but not giving her a second glance.

It was cold and raw. The cement underfoot was covered with a treacherous layer of ice and snow.

The woman stood still, white hair fluttering in the cold wind as she looked at the ground around her. Something about her caught my attention. I realized she was standing in a tiny patch of dry cement. She had no cane or other mobility aid, such as might help a person navigate an icy surface.

I went over and offered my arm. She took it gratefully, and together we got off the ice and safely over to where the city had salted the sidewalk. She thanked me.

Before we parted, she told me she had been standing there, not knowing what to do, stuck on that dry patch of sidewalk in the cold, for over twenty minutes.