Guest Blog: Giving my rep a real education about the ADA Education and Reform Act

Julie Ross

November 17, 2017

I recently called my Congressman, Pete Sessions (R-TX-32), to ask him to withdraw his support of H. R. 620, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Education and Reform Act. I found his staff was unaware of the negative impact on people with disabilities that would result from this bill. Sessions’ healthcare legislative staffer and the legislative director were surprised to learn that businesses not in compliance with the ADA could use the new law to claim they are making “substantial progress,” without removing a single barrier. With no standard definition for “substantial progress,” businesses could use this claim to effectively deny access to people with disabilities, without fear of penalty, indefinitely.

Furthermore, Sessions’ staff was not familiar with the current effective oversight and actions at the state level, as well as the large number of cases successfully resolved through the ADA Mediation program. I cited a recent case in Texas that points to the existing ethics rules and effective address through district courts and state bar associations against any frivolous lawsuits. I noted how in 2016, just one law firm was responsible for one third of all Title III lawsuits. And staff seemed unaware of the longtime federally-funded programs and resources available to help businesses comply with the law. It is misguided and dangerous to pass a federal law that addresses a small number of large-scale filers and denies or weakens ADA protections for all.

Last, I described how, 27 years after the ADA was passed, we still encounter barriers to entering business, public places, and bathrooms. As a working parent of a child with a disability, H. R. 620 would require me to take on a new job: ADA compliance enforcer for my child. What other group of marginalized individuals has to act as lawyers in their own defense, tasked with identifying violations and defending their own rights?

While Sessions’ staff was pleased that I acknowledged the problem of frivolous lawsuits, I noted that H. R. 620 does not effectively address such practices. I reiterated how the mechanisms we have in place now are effective at stopping bad faith lawyers. But rather than strengthen existing education efforts and supports to enable more businesses to comply with the 27-year-old ADA law, H. R. 620 burdens the protected class. The constraints imposed by a H. R. 620’s brief filing window is an intentional obstacle to compliance. And a business’s claim of “substantial progress” sets an indefinite, undefined metric allowing the business to avoid fines or further action, even as those violations and barriers persist.

I suggested that before we propose any law that modifies the historic ADA, we first see if that law meets the test for progress and would in no way diminish our rights and progress. As is my opinion and that of every major statewide and national disability advocacy group: no one can claim H. R. 620 would be progress for people with disabilities.

Sessions’ staff noted that they had not considered these points and would reconsider them prior to any advancement of H. R. 620. I promised to hold them to it.

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Take Action! Has your Congressional respresentative signed on as an H. R. 620 co-sponsor? Send him an email explaining why he should withdraw his support.

About Julie

A woman with short periwinkle hair stands shoulder to shoulder with an older man in a suit. A US House of Representative seal is hung behind them.Julie Ross lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband and two young daughters, ages 8 & 5. With a degree in Psychology and Human Rights from SMU, she has worked and volunteered with several non-profits. When her daughter Niko was born in 2012 with Down syndrome and heart disease, Julie began to focus primarily on disability rights and healthcare. She volunteers for The Arc of Texas and serves on the Government Affairs committee. This year, Julie was selected to participate in Texas Partners in Policymaking, an intensive training program funded by the Texas Council on Developmental Disabilities. In her advocacy work, Julie partners with self advocates to meet with members of the Texas legislature, as well as candidates for state and congressional office to educate and promote polices that insure the civil rights of people with disabilities. Left: Julie meets with Congressman Burgess to discuss Medicaid cuts in the tax reform bill 

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