People with disabilities would face new barriers in lodging ADA complaints under a bill that is currently making its way through Congress. H.R. 620, The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (ADA-ERA) proposes increased education about promoting access, restrictions on civil action, and development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The middle element has me on alert. Currently, owners and operators have a responsibility to conform to ADA standards. When these are violated, an individual can file a complaint. ADA-ERA would shift the responsibility to the victim, who would first need to serve owners or operators with written notice about a barrier. If the owners or operators failed to fix the issue, or provide a written description outlining improvements that will be made, the individual could then file a complaint. Under ADA-ERA,
the aggrieved person’s notice must specify: (1) the address of the 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.
This bill is not entirely new. It was introduced into the House of Representatives in January of this year, and promptly put into committee. The fact that it passed out of committee this September may be why there are renewed conversations about its impact. While the bill does not specifically call out electronic and information technologies, I think most of us agree that as go barriers in the built environment, so go those in the digital one. ADA-ERA can now go to the full House for a vote. The Senate would have until January 3, 2019 to pass it.
This is a needless barrier imposed on American citizens who seek nothing but access and equity. The passage of the current ADA-ERA would disincentivize owners or operators to design accessibly, since they could wait for a written complaint before complying. I personally would hate to see this version pass. It’s time to engage our members of Congress as our conscience dictates.