When we first met, I couldn’t keep up with Betsy. She walked too fast for me. Credit her left leg, its strong-as-iron muscles developed to compensate for her skinny right leg, frozen in time by polio since she was 12. Surgeons fused her ankle so her right leg assumed the shape of a golf club, and her footwear would forever be limited to those with flat soles.
That over-muscled left leg has propelled her along just fine for most of her adult life. Now, however, that “good” leg has lost most of its former strength, thanks to aging and the wear and tear of so many years of work. She uses a walker to get around the house and crutches outside the home. Ordinary curbs are a challenge, even the slight hump of a threshold is difficult to navigate. Thanks to the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, many public businesses now have become accessible to those whose disabilities put them at a disadvantage. That helps.
This sensible law, long overdue, bothers U.S. Rep. Ted Poe, Republican of Texas, who has introduced a bill that places responsibility for providing access for disabled persons squarely in the laps of disabled persons. Yes, you read that right. Business owners who have failed to comply with ADA are weary of all those lawsuits want to change the rules.
Here’s the official summary: Poe’s bill “prohibits civil actions based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation unless: (1) the aggrieved person has provided to the owners or operators a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier, and (2) the owners or operators fail to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier or they fail to remove the barrier or make substantial progress after providing such a description. The aggrieved person’s notice must specify: (1) the address of the property, (2) the specific ADA sections alleged to have been violated, (3) whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier was made, and (4) whether the barrier was permanent or temporary.”
Resolving disputes is left to the Judicial Conference of the United States, who “must develop a model program to promote alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to resolve such claims.”
In simpler terms, if a person on crutches or in a wheelchair can’t enter a public establishment because of physical barriers, he or she must file a written complaint specifying the barrier and the specific provisions of ADA that have been violated, then wait for a national committee to resolve the claim.
This outrages U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) Me, too. In a Washington Post op-ed commentary, she wrote: “This offensive legislation would segregate the disability community, making it the only protected class under civil rights law that must rely on ‘education’ — rather than strong enforcement — to guarantee access to public spaces. As the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Rights Task Force and other civil rights organizations wrote in opposing this bill, ‘We know of no other law that outlaws discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity until victims experience that discrimination and educate the entities perpetrating it about their obligations not to discriminate.’”
Rep. Duckworth lost her legs when a rocket tore into the helicopter she was flying over Iraq. Since, she has had to deal with access to public places while seated in a wheelchair.
She adds: “While I understand people might not think of some ADA violations as significant at first glance, I can assure you they are more significant for those of us with disabilities than you know.
“If Congress passed this misguided legislation, it would send a disgraceful message to Americans with disabilities that their civil rights are not worthy of strong enforcement. It is not too late to defeat this dangerous legislation and keep every American living with a disability from becoming a second-class citizen.”
Finally, this peek at the record of Rep. Ted Poe, who is sponsoring this cruel legislation. He is a former judge, known for his harsh sentences aimed at humiliating defendants. He’s big on border security, stronger action against illegal immigration. He is anti-abortion, a non-believer on climate change. He cosponsored legislation questioning Obama’s citizenship. He was diagnosed with leukemia in July 2016.