Criminalizing People With Disabilities: The Ugly Face Of Anti-Civil Rights Legislation In The USA

The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, H.R. 620, was first introduced by Republican Texas Congressman Ted Poe several years ago and opponents of disability civil rights have kept it kicking around in the halls on Congress since then. Even though this bill has been long and widely opposed in previous Judiciary Committee hearings, the current Committee on the Judiciary approved it at the end of January 2018 and was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on February 15, 2018.

Thankfully it died in the Senate and let’s hope that it does not rear it’s ugly head again.  Though many other Bills are being introduced at state and federal level which infringe on the Civil Rights of People With Disabilities.  Texas State Senator Hughes authored a Bill to prohibit taking people with disabilities to the polls to vote, it failed.  It is the trend these days, but most overlook that Disability Civil Rights violations.

H.R. 620 –

A dozen Democrats a a herd of Republican Co-Sponsors of HR 620:

These 12 Democrats voted for this Anti-Disability Civil Rights Bill, ignoring massive pleas from the disability community:  Aguilar, Bera, Cooper,  Correa, Cuellar, Foster, Peters. Peterson, Rice (NY), Schrader, Speier, and Torres.

This repressive bill is opposed by 99% of Americans with disabilities because it would make accessibility much harder to get for people with disabilities, delay the ability to have our Civil Rights enforced, and would charge us with criminal penalties for not following the bill’s onerous and restrictive process.

Typically, this bill with a cuddly name is a Trojan Horse carrying mayhem inside. Although the bill purports to promote compliance with the ADA through education, it violates the Civil Rights of accessibility and accommodation granted to people with disabilities by the ADA.

Here are many of the recent statements from disability organizations and even the U.S Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights opposing this anti-disability civil rights bill:

• Myths and Truths About the “ADA Education and Reform Act” (H.R. 620) – Paralyzed Veterans of America, Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law, and American Civil Liberties Union

Click to access myths-and-truths-about-the-ada-education-and-reform-act.pdf

• Overview of concerns with H.R. 620 – Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Overview of Concerns with H.R. 620, the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017

• ADA Notification Legislation – Paralyzed Veterans of America

Click to access pva-fact-sheet.pdf

• Save The ADA: Resources to Combat ADA Notification Bills – Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities

• Comments on H.R. 620 – US Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division

Click to access DOJ-Comments-on-HR-620-9-11-17.pdf

• Save the ADA webpage – National Disability Rights Network

• Letter of Opposition to H.R. 620 – National Disability Leadership Alliance

Click to access NDLA-HR-620-Opposition-Letter_Final-10_5.pdf

• Letter of Opposition to H.R. 620 – National Council on Independent Living

Click to access NCIL-Opposition-Letter-The-ADA-Education-and-Reform-Act-of-2017-Oct.-2017-.pdf

The National Council On Disability, the federal agency which advises the federal government on disability rights and issues, but which has no enforcement authority, has stated: “This proposed provision would be unique in civil rights law, and would have a chilling effect on anyone aware of this provision. Ironically, an innocent person with a disability who simply wanted to make a business owner aware of a violation of a well-settled 26-year old law might unwittingly violate this new notice requirement and face a stiff penalty while a business owner is free to flout the access requirements of the ADA. This sort of imbalance is certainly not in keeping with original Congressional intent which already took all parties’ interests into consideration against the backdrop of an individual’s inalienable civil rights.”

The full statement of the NCD to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution regarding this bill can be read using this link:

The bill prohibits persons with disabilities from, and subjects violators to a criminal fine for, sending demand letters or other pre-suit notifications alleging a violation of ADA public accommodation requirements if the notification does not specify the circumstances under which an individual was actually denied access. The notification must specify: (1) the address of 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.

The bill restricts how notifications of violations of the ADA and requests for accessibility can be given by people with disabilities, making it impossible for the person with disabilities who encounters an illegal barrier to negotiate an immediate or timely cure by demanding their rights without prior written notice, they would be subject to criminal penalties.

The bill requires that the specific sections of the ADA alleged to be violated be cited by the person with disabilities, which means that in most cases a legal advocate would have to be consulted before such a notice could be written, however any legal action would be delayed until the new onerous process is completed. There is a severe lack of legal services for people with disabilities as it is, whether through Protection and Advocacy services required by the federal government, Legal Aid Societies, or even disability organizations. Many people who are blind, deaf, cognitively or mobility impaired could not write a notice as required by this bill without finding help to do it, while most could assert their rights in many other ways according to their differing abilities, as is our Civil Right.

On May 19, 2016 The U.S. House of Representative Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution, held a hearing on this proposed draconian legislation, yet unlike many other Civil Rights issues in our country involving race, gender, or sexual preference, there was nothing reported in the media about this assault on disability rights other than in the world of the separate but supposedly equal disability community.

The ADA Education and Reform Act is not the only such bill attacking disability rights. “A number of bills, like the ADA Compliance for Customer Entry to Stores and Services (ACCESS) Act, H.R. 241, sponsored by California Congressman Ken Calvet, have been introduced in Congress that would create barriers to the civil rights for persons with disabilities that do not exist in other civil rights laws. These bills seek to limit the power of the ADA and reduce compliance with the law. The ACCESS act is one of these bills that will go back on the compromises made between the business and disability communities during passage of the ADA”, wrote the Consortium For Citizens With Disabilities and 17 other national disability organizations in written testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

The full statement of the Consortium For People With Disabilities to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, Subcommittee on the Constitution regarding this bill can be read using this link:

Having been involved, starting in 1955, in the Civil Rights movement, I have come to recognize the ingrained pervasive prejudice towards people with disabilities in this country as well, and almost all people with disabilities would agree with me on that. This pervasive denial, indifference, ignorance, neglect, abuse, and violations of people with disabilities, which no one, not even the progressive news media, wants to talk about, is to me very similar to the public attitude prior to the rise of fascism in Germany in the 1030s. It is no surprise to me that Donald Trump has such popularity in this country, for I have seen this fascism growing for years.

For years I have asserted that the best way to truly arrive at equality for people with disabilities is through a massive media and public education effort to remove the ignorance so that people understand what the rights of people with disabilities are, understand the conditions and needs of the diverse forms of disabilities, and learn how to be helpful in ways that do not demand much time or energy. Until the darkness of that pervasive ignorance is removed by the light of understanding, violations of the rights of people with disabilities and marginalization of us as second class citizens will continue.

It is very disheartening that there are a dozen Democratic Representatives among the co-sponsors of this bill.

I encourage folks to stand up and speak out for your sisters, brothers, neighbors, and friends with disabilities.

Let these members of Congress know that criminalizing people with disabilities is a crime unto itself.



About Llanojake

Eclectic, Egalitarian, Enduring
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