[Nfbnet-members-list] The Hill: Passing the ADA Education and Reform Act would be a step backwards for equality and justice, by Mark Riccobono

Danielsen, Chris CDanielsen at nfb.org
Thu Jul 27 21:36:07 UTC 2017

Source: The Hill
Date: July 26, 2017
Author: Mark Riccobono
Passing the ADA Education and Reform Act would be a step backwards 
for equality and justice
Exactly twenty-seven years ago, the United States took another in a 
long series of steps toward actualizing our founding principles of 
equality and justice for all. On July 26, 1990, the Americans with 
Disabilities Act (ADA) became the law of the land. With its signing 
by President George H.W. Bush came true progress in the fight for 
equality and opportunity for the nation's blind.
The National Federation of the Blind, the country's oldest and 
largest nationwide organization of blind people, has always been 
determined in our efforts to break down barriers that hinder us from 
transforming our dreams into reality and living the lives we want. 
The ADA, while not the only means through which we achieve these 
goals, has been and continues to be indispensable. Specifically, 
Title III of the ADA provides legal remedies for the blind when we 
encounter accessibility barriers as we work, study, shop, travel, and 
generally avail ourselves of the things that society has to offer. 
Such barriers are daily occurrences in our lives, and, in the worst 
cases, threaten our employment, education, and ability to function in 
our communities.
It is therefore incumbent upon us to defend against the many assaults 
upon the ADA. Using a tactic deployed by critics of the Civil Rights 
Act and the Voting Rights Act, opponents of the ADA falsely accuse us 
of wanting special privileges or treatment. But we demand only equal 
treatment and opportunity; no more, no less.
The latest misguided attempt to undermine civil rights and equality 
for the blind and other Americans with disabilities is the ADA 
Education and Reform Act, a House bill that would purportedly 
mitigate the scourge of "frivolous" lawsuits brought by shady lawyers 
and "serial plaintiffs."
The crux of the argument in favor of this bill is that people with 
disabilities, such as the fifty thousand members of the National 
Federation of the Blind, are abusing the ADA in order to make a quick 
buck by unfairly targeting small businesses. There are several things 
wrong with this thesis. First, there is no systematic evidence that 
large numbers of illegitimate complaints are being filed. Proponents 
of this legislation, which would insert 180 days of unnecessary lag 
time between when a violation is encountered and when redress can be 
expected, can only point to anecdotal and extreme cases. For example, 
a report that analyzed all Title III lawsuits filed in 2016 found 
just twelve "serial plaintiffs." Given that 6,600 suits were filed in 
total, claims of abuse are exaggerated.
Second, this bill cannot and does not make any distinction between 
meritorious and frivolous complaints. Therefore, legitimate 
complaints would be discouraged because of a tiny number of bad 
actors. The blind are disgusted by any abuse of the ADA for personal 
enrichment, but we do not believe that the problem is pervasive 
enough to weaken the most critical tool that we have to protect our rights.
Third, the number of violations that we encounter daily dwarfs the 
number of lawsuits. Lawsuits are expensive and time consuming, and we 
do not pursue them lightly. In most cases, we find acceptable 
work-arounds and move on.
In short, this bill is a solution in search of a problem. While it is 
true that Title III complaints have risen substantially in recent 
years, it is also true that awareness of our rights as blind people 
and the mechanisms of redress available to us have risen in equal 
measure. It is also true that new opportunities driven by technology 
bring with them new accessibility challenges. Whether we are 
attempting to engage in ecommerce, book travel plans using digital 
platforms, or conduct banking activities using mobile applications, 
we are consistently met with roadblocks that clearly violate the ADA.
The National Federation of the Blind strongly opposes this bill. On 
this day we commemorate a milestone in our nation's history. We 
acknowledge that passage of the ADA was another move toward a more 
perfect union. To support a bill that would undermine the ability of 
the blind and others with disabilities to ensure equal access and 
opportunity would be to repudiate that project and dishonor our 
shared legacy. As we use this anniversary to reflect on what the ADA 
means, we will also take concerted action to buttress it against 
those forces that would undermine it. The National Federation of the 
Blind calls on those who have already signed on as co-sponsors of 
this bill to withdraw their support and for those who may be asked to 
support it in the future to refuse. To do otherwise is to scale back 
hard-won gains and hinder our progress toward true equality.
Mark A. Riccobono is president of the National Federation of the Blind.

Christopher S. Danielsen, J.D.
Director of Public Relations
200 East Wells Street, Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2330 | cdanielsen at nfb.org
Twitter: @rlawyer

National Federation of the Blind


The National Federation of the Blind is a community of members and 
friends who believe in the hopes and dreams of the nation's blind. 
Every day we work together to help blind people live the lives they want.

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