News & Politics

The House Just Passed a Bill That's Great for Discriminatory Businesses, Horrible For People with Disabilities

Republicans—and a few Democrats—decided to roll back key protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

The ADA Education and Reform Act passed the House Thursday, and activists are furious. 

Under the legislation, businesses that don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a landmark effort to secure civil rights, will be given much more leeway to avoid the law. The bill shifts the burden of ensuring compliance onto people with disabilities, rather than on the businesses that can make their lives harder. 

If it becomes law, people who find businesses in violation of the ADA will still be able to sue. But first, they have to file a complaint with the business, which will have 60 days to respond in writing to the complaint. After that, the business will have 120 days to begin making "substantive improvements."

"If they don’t comply within the time period, then file the lawsuit," said Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas. "Go after them. But businesses should be able to have the notice of what the problem is so that they can fix it, which is the goal of the ADA.”

The problem? Businesses already know they should be following the ADA, and when they don't, it can significantly limit the freedom of people with disabilities to live their lives. Imagine being invited out with a group of friends to dinner, and then finding out you can't enter the restaurant because your wheelchair doesn't fit in the door.

Now, the House is telling people with disabilities that if they're discriminated against, they have to wait at least six months before the problem even starts to get addressed.

The bill requires that someone filing a complaint specify exactly which sections of the ADA have been violated. That's right: Under this bill, you have to be an expert in the law in order to have your rights respected.

"Navigating such a process would be both complicated and time-consuming, which of course, is the point of the bill," said the ACLU.

“This bill affects us tremendously,” Marilee Adamski-Smith, the national media chair for ADAPT, told Disability Scoop. “We are worried it’s going to push back disability rights 27 years, to before ADA protections were in place.”

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Cody Fenwick is a reporter and editor. Follow him on Twitter @codytfenwick.