For further information, contact:
Mark Richert, Esq. Director, Public Policy, AFB (202) 469-6833 MRichert@AFB.net
Advocates should recall that, on September 7, the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, legislation that would significantly impair the enforceability of the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. H.R. 620 would require an individual with a disability who encounters an architectural barrier in any public accommodation - places such as restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores, entertainment facilities, and more - to give the owner of such establishment a technically precise written notice of the barrier encountered and at least six months to resolve the issue before proceeding with court action.
Disability rights advocates argue that H.R. 620 needlessly extends the quarter century worth of notice which facilities operators have had since the original implementation of the ADA and that the bill would unconscionably encourage operators to wait for a complaint before making facilities accessible rather than affirmatively ensuring accessibility as a matter of course.
The House has yet to bring H.R. 620 to the floor for a vote, and there has not been any formal Senate action taken or companion legislation introduced. However, while the language of H.R. 620 is currently restricted to architectural barriers, advocates fear that the legislation is poised to be expanded to include the ADA's applicability to the internet.
Advocates will remember that the Obama administration failed to make any meaningful progress on the issuance of federal regulations that would eliminate any doubt about the ADA's applicability to the internet, especially concerning online-only places of public accommodation and the specific technical standards that website operators should employ to ensure accessibility. Citing this regulatory vacuum, some California-based credit unions have been pressuring their congressional delegation to make a formal written request to the Trump administration to proceed with rule making. In response, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) has recently been joined by a growing roster of members of the House in the transmittal of such a letter, while a Senate letter to the administration is still under consideration. Although advocates have been urging the issuance of unambiguous and strong regulations dealing with internet accessibility and the ADA for years, many advocates now fear that the current regulatory environment might yield incomplete, weak, or compromising rules that could set the cause of online access back dramatically.
Not content with simply stirring the regulatory pot with the aid of Congress, the Credit Union National Association most recently issued a formal written call to Congress itself urging law makers to expand the so-called ADA notification efforts currently in play on the Hill, and specifically H.R. 620, to address both architectural and cyber barriers. Advocates are very concerned that the current Congress may be fertile ground indeed for such appeals. A recent article outlining a number of credit union and web accessibility cases in Virginia may help explain how this issue has gained attention (see a link to the article below).
These dynamics have been playing out over a period in which the ADA generally seems to be increasingly under attack. One recent court case may breathe life into the notion that telephone access is a perfectly acceptable alternative for businesses to offer instead of internet accessibility (see a link to a blog post about this case below). Yet another recent court decision holding that a major movie theater chain must offer interpreter services to a deafblind patron is sparking plenty of vitriol from at least one commenter opining in Forbes magazine (see a link to the Forbes anti-ADA screed below).
However, prominent public figures are also weighing in with their own positive perspectives about the ADA and the dangers of weakening it (see the compelling piece penned by Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) linked to below).
Advocates who have heretofore been dismissing the ADA notification efforts in Congress as only being relevant to those people with disabilities experiencing physical barriers would now do well to reevaluate and respond with renewed commitment to these evolving legislative dynamics. An attack on the ADA is an attack on all people with disabilities, regardless of the particulars, but in this instance, the potential risks to the vision loss community are unmistakable.
The message is simple: When reaching out to your House and Senate members, tell them to say NO to any effort to amend the Americans with Disabilities Act in any way, shape or form. Tell them that Congress needs to get to work on the myriad and very real challenges facing our country and that making it harder for people with disabilities to enforce their civil and human rights to live, learn, work and fully participate in American life is most assuredly not one of them. Tell them to oppose H.R. 620 and any other legislation that may emerge in the House or Senate that proposes to weaken or otherwise amend the ADA in any manner whatsoever.
To contact your House and Senate members, use the following links:
- For your Representative: https://www.house.gov/representatives/
- For your Senators: https://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/
· Or call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121
For the text of H.R. 620 and related information, including cosponsors:
To read the Credit Union National Association's letter to Congress urging inclusion of internet-related issues in pending ADA legislation:
- Blog Post: https://www.cuna.org/Legislative-And-Regulatory-Advocacy/Removing-Barriers-Blog/Removing-Barriers-Blog/CUNA-Urges-Congress-to-Curb-Litigation-Abuse-Under-the-ADA/
- Letter: https://www.cuna.org/Legislative-And-Regulatory-Advocacy/Legislative-Advocacy/Letters-and-Testimony/Letters/2017/ADA-Legislation-20171016/
To read about the Virginia credit union and internet accessibility cases, as well as Rep. Swalwell’s Letter:
To see the opinion piece critical of the interpreter services in theaters decision:
To read the blog post from Seyfarth Shaw on telephonic alternatives to internet access: