Representative Ted Poe , Republican of Texas, apparently noticed that nearly twenty-seven years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, many private businesses are still not in compliance. So he took action. He introduced the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, which makes it a whole lot easier for businesses to avoid being in compliance.
Let’s say there’s a guy named George, and George wants to have a party. But George uses a wheelchair to get around and his friendly neighborhood liquor store has a single step at the entrance that could be easily removed or ramped. George is fed up with how that step has been around for as long as the ADA has been around. He passes inaccessible buildings like that every day. The ADA says George has as much right as everyone else to fully enjoy what that liquor store has to offer, so he can file an ADA suit against the liquor store seeking to have the entrance made accessible.
But if Poe’s bill passes, the liquor store entrance won’t be the only barrier with which George will have to contend. Before George could take any legal action, the new law would require that he first provide the liquor store owner, whom I will call Mr and Ms Liquor Store Owners, with a letter detailing the section of the ADA with which the store is not in compliance and how it denied him access to the store. Then Mr and Ms Liquor Store Owners will have sixty days to respond to the notice and up to 120 days after receiving notice to fix or make progress toward fixing the problem.
Meanwhile, Mr and Ms Liquor Store Owner can rest easier at night, knowing that they don’t even have to give their obligations under the ADA a second thought until some disabled person comes along with the time, energy and expertise to serve them with notice of their wrongdoing.
Poe wants to give business owners an ADA compliance grace period of twenty-seven years and counting. He wants to let them use, “Gee, I didn’t know, (wink wink)” as a legitimate legal defense.
What egregious injustice suffered by private business owners does this law correct? That’s a damn good question. There’s a reason why you haven’t heard horror stories about a rash of businesses going down because of the burdens placed upon them by the ADA. Title III of the ADA only requires private owners of public accommodations to make changes if they are “readily achievable.” Also, Title III doesn’t allow people like George to collect monetary damages in a private suit, so he can’t soak Mr and Ms Liquor Store Owner for all they’re worth plus their first born.
There have been stories of shady lawyers who file dozens of ADA suits against businesses, settle out of court for money and move on. But there are plenty of ways to fight back against abuse like that without touching the ADA.
All this bill does is send a message that the federal government now believes that the civil rights of people with disabilities are frivolous.
There have been past attempts in Congress to dilute the ADA in this manner. Poe introduced a bill with the same name in the last Congress. None of these attempts went far but this bill has several Democrats as co-sponsors. And the squatter who currently occupies the White House has exhibited passionate disregard for the rights of disabled folks. So if this bill makes it to his desk he will probably happily sign it.
If Poe has his way, poor George will have to study up on chapter and verse of the ADA if he wants to get into the liquor store. He’ll probably just say screw it and make his party BYOB.