House Lawmakers Approve Changes To Americans With Disabilities Act
Amid vocal protests from disability rights activists, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the ADA Education and Reform Act Thursday on a vote of 225 to 192.
Critics say the controversial legislation, also known as H.R. 620, would severely damage accessibility protections laid out in the 27-year-old landmark Americans with Disabilities Act. The vote was split mostly along party lines with a dozen Democrats joining nearly all House Republicans voting in favor of the bill.
The legislation would require people facing accessibility barriers at public businesses — whether that means a lack of wheelchair ramps, special parking or bathroom facilities — to provide written notice of their concerns. Businesses would have up to 60 days to respond and then an additional 60 days to begin improvements.
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Proponents of the bill say frivolous lawsuits around ADA compliance have created significant problems for small businesses, but disability advocates say the language in the ADA Education and Reform Act would essentially allow businesses to take no action on accessibility until a complaint is filed.
On the House floor, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said the legislation amounts to a “virtual get out of jail free card” for any business that wants to avoid accessibility requirements. But Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., described situations in which small business owners were sued for posting the wrong shape of sign, or for very minor infractions, creating a “a cottage industry” of costly lawsuits.
In the days leading up to the vote, disability advocates had been mobilizing to protest the legislation. At least 10 people with the disability rights group ADAPT were arrested Tuesday by U.S. Capitol Police after demonstrating in the Capitol building.
And on Thursday, many protesters in wheelchairs chanted and shouted from the U.S. House gallery in the minutes leading up to the vote. Some were escorted out of the gallery, while lawmakers — including Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who herself uses a wheelchair — looked on.
“This bill affects us tremendously,” said Marilee Adamski-Smith, the national media chair for ADAPT. “We are worried it’s going to push back disability rights 27 years, to before ADA protections were in place.”
Currently, there is no companion bill in the U.S. Senate.