WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 16, 2019)—As we have stated repeatedly over the past few years, the American Foundation for the Blind believes that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one of the most impactful laws for people who are blind or visually impaired, and we continue to strongly oppose efforts to weaken the framework that ensures societal inclusion of people with disabilities.
Yet, legislators, citizens, and business owners alike continue to underestimate the importance and impact of this landmark civil rights law. Indeed, as many people were celebrating the 29th anniversary of the ADA this summer, seven U.S. Representatives introduced H.R. 4099, the ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services Act, the so-called ACCESS Act. This bill is the first so-called ADA notification bill of this congressional session.
In spite of its name, this act is intended not to create access to stores and services for people with disabilities but rather to protect business owners who fail to provide access. H.R. 4099 requires anyone who is denied access or service by a business that is out of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide its owner or operator with a written notice that is specific enough to allow the operator to identify the barrier to the person’s access and remediate it. Within 60 days, the operator would be required to provide the individual a description outlining plans to address the barrier. The operator would then have 60 more days to make substantial progress toward removing the barrier. Only after all of these actions were taken would an individual have a right to pursue a legal remedy under the ADA.
People with disabilities should not have to wait months for businesses to “make substantial progress” in providing access to their business.
Why do we oppose such legislation?
Businesses have had 29 years to comply with the ADA, which was passed in 1990. If they are not in compliance, it is not because they have not received notification of their responsibilities. This bill requires the person who has experienced discrimination to provide the business owner or operator with a written notification of a violation, so that the owner or operator has additional time to identify and remediate it.
No other anti-discrimination law requires those who experience discrimination to provide a business owner or operator with a notice that they have experienced discrimination. This bill requires those who experience discrimination to provide a detailed analysis of how their rights have been actually violated and prevents them from accessing their civil rights until well after the violation occurred and notification is provided.
Few average citizens with disabilities have the extensive legal training to provide a business owner with specific legal and regulatory information. Furthermore, few citizens would know where to find this information or how to present it. Requiring such notification and waiting periods will only ensure that people are discouraged from holding businesses accountable to the law. In turn, more businesses will remain or become inaccessible to people with disabilities.
The burden of complying with the ADA should not be on the people who are negatively impacted by businesses that break the law. The responsibility for complying with the ADA, as with any other law, should be on the business to which it applies, but allowing additional months for compliance will only serve to discourage business from proactively acting to create accessible spaces and services.
The ADA has been a careful negotiation between businesses and consumers with disabilities. However, these bills break down that collaboration in favor of a business position that fails to acknowledge people with disabilities as valuable customers.
Since 1991, the ADA National Network has supported businesses in complying with the ADA. If businesses do not comply with the ADA, it is not due to a lack of information or training opportunities. Instead of curtailing the rights of people with disabilities, we should expand awareness and technical assistance efforts.
True inclusion ensures that all people can access goods and services in the same way to the greatest degree possible. People with disabilities should not be segregated or excluded when a reasonable modification to a physical or digital environment exists. And, generally, these modifications are readily available.
About The American Foundation for the Blind
Founded in 1921, the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that creates a world of no limits for people who are blind or visually impaired. AFB mobilizes leaders, advances understanding, and champions impactful policies and practices using research and data. AFB is proud to house the Helen Keller Archives and honor the more than 40 years that Helen Keller worked tirelessly with AFB. Visit: www.afb.org