A piece of legislation is making its way through Congress that, if passed, would restructure a key provision of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Local advocacy groups say the legislation would limit equal access for the disabled community in commercial spaces and restructure ADA enforcement.
“It basically gets businesses off the hook with having to comply with the American with Disabilities Act,” said Kathy Griesmyer, Policy Director with the ACLU of Idaho.
Griesmyer says H.R. 620 would make the ADA functionally optional when it comes to businesses.
“Businesses are saying community members are filing frivolous lawsuits, which we would disagree with,” Griesmyer. “Those folks have every right to do so — it’s part of their ability to enforce and ensure that their civil rights are being met.”
Opponents of the legislation say it would limit access to some restaurants, movie theaters and businesses.
“If we go to a restaurant, we assume there’s a restroom we can use. If you go into the restroom, can you reach the soap dispenser from a wheelchair? So, there are all kinds of very reasonable aspects of the ADA itself and regulations that, as the ADA intended to do, make public spaces open to everyone, including those with disabilities,” said Kat Macfarlane.
Macfarlane, an associate professor of law at the University of Idaho, has recently began using a wheelchair; and she says it has forged a whole new understanding of what kind of barriers the disabled community faces.
“The ADA wanted us to be part of society and when we don’t take down barriers, when we don’t take them down quickly, we make it harder to litigate barriers, we really do a disservice to the original Americans with Disabilities Act,” Macfarlane said.
H.R. 620 was approved by the House of Representatives Thursday, Feb. 15. It is now being discussed in the Senate.