A bill that would weaken the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may not be taken up for consideration by the US Senate, thanks to a coalition of senators and strong opposition from disability rights supporters including APTA.
But the fight isn't over yet.
Known as the ADA Education and Reform Act (HR 620), the bill would add a "notice and cure" clause to the ADA, effectively shifting the burden of compliance for public accommodations away from public establishments and on to the individual with the disability. Under HR 620 an individual with a disability who experiences discrimination in access to a public accommodation would have to notify the establishment owner, who would have up to 60 days to respond to the complaint. If no response or progress to address the issue is made, the individual with a disability would have to wait another 120 days before being allowed to file a lawsuit.
Supporters of the bill, which passed in the US House of Representatives, characterized HR 620 as a measure aimed at discouraging frivolous lawsuits. Opponents including APTA see the bill as nothing less than an effort to undermine the ADA.
"The ADA was landmark civil rights legislation barring discrimination on the basis of disability that was long overdue when it was signed into law more than 25 years ago," said Katy Neas, executive vice president of public affairs for APTA. "This attempt to erode the rights guaranteed in the ADA runs counter to the values of the physical therapy profession and its commitment to assisting all people with disabilities to set and achieve high goals."
APTA has joined hundreds of organizations including AARP, NAACP, Paralyzed Veterans of America, and the National Disability Rights Network to oppose the bill. Recently, that opposition was taken up by 43 US senators, led by Sen Tammy Duckworth (IL), who signed on to a letter promising to prevent the measure from receiving a vote.
"When supporters of the discriminatory HR 620 argue for its necessity by citing examples of alleged 'minor' accessibility infractions, they miss the point that this bill undermines the rights of people with disabilities, rather than protects them," the senators write. "There is nothing minor about a combat veteran with a disability having to suffer the indignity of being unable to independently access a restaurant in the country they were willing to defend abroad. There is nothing minor about a child with cerebral palsy being forced to suffer the humiliation of being unable to access a movie theater alongside her friends."
Although the number of senators who have pledged to oppose the bill is sufficient to prevent passage, Neas says it's important that groups fighting HR 620 keep up the pressure.
"The leadership of the senators who signed on to the opposition letter provides an important boost to our efforts to stop HR 620, but now is not the time to sit back and relax," Neas said. "We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that this bill never reaches the finish line."
Individuals who want to join the opposition to HR 620 can find out more by visiting the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund; APTA members and supporters are encouraged to visit the association's Legislative Action Center, and contact their senators to urge them to not consider HR 620 in the Senate.