Fifteen years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed on the lawn of the White House, I celebrated the anniversary in the best way possible.
I rolled into the office of my state’s Congressman, Mark Foley, with the intentions to advocate for my rights as a person with a disability and protect the law that has offered our culture the largest level of equality to date in this country.
Florida Congressman Mark Foley’s ADA Notification Act threatens the already wavering sanctity of the collection of laws and standards that offer me the right as a citizen with a disability to have access to public places, seek employment without discrimination, and live among my fellow Americans as an equal.
With every victory of the disability movement, we both look forward to what’s next and back to what we could have improved upon. One of common reflections on the ADA has been the lack of enforcement procedures or accountability set up to back the law.
No one in particular, within the public or private sector, was appointed to seek compliance. For this reason, this responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of people with disabilities to stand up for their rights as defined by this law.
When a person is denied architectural access to a public facility, no matter how large or small, based on their disability, they have the option under ADA to file a complaint with the Department of Justice.
The next step may be seeking compliance and/or compensation through the court system. Despite the fact millions of dollars have been spent to educate contractors, small business owners, and the public about how to comply with the standards of ADA fifteen years after its signing, major violations still exist.
The ADA Notification Act would give these violators 90 more days to comply before any action could be taken within the only system we’ve been given to protect our rights, the courts.
Under Foley’s sponsored act, our role as the sole enforcers of the ADA would expand even further to include properly notifying those that deny us basic access to their facility and then waiting to see what happens. It’s difficult to understand that more waiting after fifteen years is a solution to anyone’s problem.
Mark Foley’s ADA Notification Act is blurred behind the mask of protecting the vulnerable people with disabilities from “shiesty lawyers” who seek to take advantage of small business owners.
This paternalistic attitude that we are somehow less capable of protecting ourselves compared to the average citizen is more evidence to Foley’s underlying principle that the burden upon small businesses to comply is more valuable to consider than our rights as equal citizens.
While he has definitely been briefed and is well practiced in using politically correct terms and carefully shying away from outright stating that he believes many ADA standards are not truly necessary and expensive trivialities, he still makes it clear with his statements in interviews with the media.
Instead of sharing the perspective of a person with a disability who has been denied access to any public place he/she wishes to go, Foley instead shares stories of those that file lawsuits against strip clubs or those that file complaints based on the difference of a few inches from the standard disabled parking place.
While I know as a person with a disability, that I have the right to go anywhere my fellow American without a disability goes, including and not limited to a strip club, society views the accessibility of these businesses as a lower priority.
I also know that a few inches might seem trivial to many, but those inches could easily make the difference of me being able to unload my wheelchair and enjoy access to that facility.
Foley intentionally plants the seed that the only ADA violations largely left in noncompliance are those of a lower priority and greater burden to our economy and network of small businesses.
Upon meeting with Foley, I had hoped that in the least I would better understand his motivation or reasoning behind his sponsorship of the ADA Notification Act. I left realizing that the research I had done on this Act followed with its intention, to weaken the greatest attempt by our government to offer us equality as Americans with disabilities.
Again, the responsibility to protect and enforce our rights whether we can stand up for them or not falls back on us: the people with disabilities. It is essential that as we celebrate the anniversary of ADA, we do not rest on our victories. As we hold our conferences, meetings, and private discussions on what ADA has done for us, others work to destroy.
Stay up to date on proposed changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act with frequent checks to the site www.adawatch. org and staying in touch with our community of advocates.
Join the discussion in Audacity’s Online Forum to learn how you can become more involved. Celebrate ADA by ensuring it will be stronger than ever by our next anniversary.