Update: Americans With Disabilities Act Faces Political Battle

07/24/2018 |

An ADA political battle is heating up in the form of HR 620

How Does This Affect Your Facility?

As a facilities manager or the owner of a building, your actions today can prevent a potential lawsuit or poor public image later, which could have an effect on your ability to keep tenants in your building, customers in your business or even more importantly, keep your facility open by avoiding costly legal bills.

For example, the recent lawsuit toward the Mandalay Bay shooting victims and their families by MGM Resort International has people outraged. Public perception just from the headline alone envokes an emotional response and MGM is perceived to be insensitive to the tragic event. 

BUILDINGS speaks to two legal experts about the implications of this lawsuit.

Knowing the steps you need to take if you do receive a complaint, either directly from a disabled individual or from a letter, can make or break the chance of a positive resolution.

HR 620: The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017

If passed, the proposed ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (HR 620) would make it harder for people with disabilities to challenge violations of the 27-year-old-law, which prohibits discrimination toward disabled individuals

Top article: The ADA-Compliant Restroom

Currently, if a disabled person cannot access a business or facility due to inaccessibility, they can:

1. Speak to the owner or manager of the facility

2. File a complaint with the Department of Justice

3. File a formal lawsuit in court

If HR 620 becomes law, a person with a disability would be obliged to provide written notice to a business owner who has violated the ADA. The business owner would then have 60 days to acknowledge there is a problem and another 120 days to make progress toward correcting the violation.

Since its original introduction in the House, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 has since moved to the Senate, where yeas and nays will determine its fate. FMs should monitor the situation closely.

Why You Shouldnt Wait to Comply

As a building owner or facility manager, you might see this as a reason to wait to bring your facility up to code and become ADA complaint. But here’s why you may want to reconsider that decision: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL).

Senator Tammy Duckworth rallied fellow Senators to threaten filibuster to HR 620 bill passed by the House.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth rallied fellow senators to threaten a filibuster to HR 620.
 

Sen. Duckworth, an Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient, rallied 42 of her Democratic colleagues and wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). The letter lays out the many additional challenges the bill will create for people with disabilities. Here are a few excerpts (read the letter in its entirety):

Congress carefully crafted Title III of the ADA to make sure private enforcement actions prioritize achieving readily accessible barrier removal and are an affordable avenue for Americans with disabilities to seek relief. The expectation was that businesses would make themselves accessible before people with disabilities showed up at their place of business, rather than waiting until receiving a notice that people with disabilities have been excluded before starting to think about complying with the law.

[...]

“When supporters of the discriminatory HR 620 argue for its necessity by citing examples of alleged “minor” accessibility infractions, they miss the point that this bill undermines the rights of people with disabilities, rather than protects them. There is nothing minor about a combat veteran with a disability having to suffer the indignity of being unable to independently access a restaurant in the country they were willing to defend abroad. There is nothing minor about a child with cerebral palsy being forced to suffer the humiliation of being unable to access a movie theater alongside her friends.

[...]

“A ramp a few degrees too steep or a shower head a couple inches too high from the legally prescribed standards are the difference between accessibility and discrimination.”

This bill, if brought to a vote in the Senate, may never come to pass. So by waiting to get your building up to code, you could be setting yourself up to have legal action taken against you later. 

Why You Should Pay Attention

Waiting to put in that grab bar in the bathroom or having it too close to the toilet paper dispenser may be detrimental to your bottom line. It also may seem like a minor detail.

Read more: 5 Common ADA Bathroom Mistakes 

But what if a disabled person has to lean too far down to use the dispenser and falls? What if they can’t open the bathroom door to use the facilities at all because your door swings out instead of in? Are you ready to have a conversation with that person? Or his or her loved one? Or worse, their lawyer?

Personal preservation, although a common reason to comply, is not the only factor at play. Ensuring the dignity and rights of all people who come into your building highlights your professionalism. People with disabilities just want to live their lives like everyone else. Help them do that.

To learn more, you can read the full text of the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (HR 620) at the official website of U.S. Congress.  

(This article was originally published on September 25, 2017, updated on March 23, 2018 and July 24, 2018.)


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