Today, the United States House of Representatives voted on HR 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. This bill limits the ability for someone to file a lawsuit due to violations of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It was adopted with 225 votes in favor, 192 against, and 13 abstentions. The result is no great surprise, but it is very disappointing.

What is the Americans with Disabilities Act?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a disability rights legislation that was intended to provide protection to people with disabilities in the USA. I know many staunch disability rights advocates who were involved in helping this law see the light. It was signed into law in 1990 and became effective in 1992. I started working as a disability rights advocate in the United States in 1995, just a few short years after the ADA became effective.

There was a lot of confusion on the part of business owners then– and a lot of anger, too. They didn’t seem to understand that the ADA is not a “brick and mortar” law, unlike the Building Code. The ADA is a human rights law. And there was no real mechanism for enforcing ADA violations other than filing a complaint and a lawsuit. Today, more people understand the importance of the ADA and see that people with disabilities have money to spend – if we can get into the business.

How Does HR620 Change Things?

Under HR620, people with disabilities are responsible for giving written notice about a violation to the offending business, after which said business has 60 days to respond. After the initial 60 days, the business then has an additional 120 days to make “substantial progress” towards a fix. That means a business basically has SIX FULL MONTHS to twiddle their thumbs in response to a human rights complaint before a lawsuit can be filed.

Some see this as a good thing, a way to avoid frivolous lawsuits. As an individual with a disability who knows dozens of people with disabilities, I can tell you that accessibility lawsuits are not, by and large, frivolous. And if we complain about accessibility, it’s because we require access now, not six months down the road.

There is still a chance to stop this. The bill needs to pass in the Senate, then be signed by the president.

We urge every one of you, living with a disability or not, to write, phone, and visit your Senator. Tell them how important it is for HR620 not to pass in the Senate. Tell them that people with disabilities are just like people everywhere, and everyone requires access now.

You may find information on how to contact a U.S. Senator on the Senate’s page.