Proposed bill will amend ADA, restrict pursuit of civil action


Kelsey Kurz

A girl in a wheelchair next to a flight of stairs.

Madison Kloeber, Managing Editor

On Sept. 7, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance the Americans with Disabilities Education and Reform Act, or HR 620, which would prevent individuals from suing a business found in violation with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) until a series of steps are completed.

According to alumna Teagan Scott, class of 2017, who is now a political science major at Gonzaga University, HR 620 would “promote accessibility in the public sphere.”

“This would include an educational provision with the intent of informing property owners and government officials of how to promote these changes,” Scott said.

“I believe that this bill will be beneficial for those who are entitled to legal action as per the ADA, and that the educational component is much needed in order to further awareness of disability rights as an activist and political cause,” Scott said.

Scott said she hopes the bill will entitle property owners and government officials to learn about accessibility.

“This creates a more airtight form of protection,” Scott said. “As is often said, ignorance of the law is no excuse, and this bill will hopefully erase that loophole for [abled] individuals.”

Scott said disability rights education should be addressed to “erase the stigma which sometimes arises regarding disability accommodation.”

According to Scott, HR 620 would improve the ADA by allowing civil action to be pursued in the event of violation.

“From a legal standpoint, HR 620 would also be an attempt to resolve disputes involving disability discrimination before it comes to the courts,” Scott said.

According to Congress, the bill would prohibit  “civil actions based on the failure to remove an architectural barrier to access into an existing public accommodation.”

Under HR 620, an individual may only pursue legal action if they have given the “owners or operators a written notice specific enough to identify the barrier” according to Congress.

Should business owners or operators “fail to provide the person with a written description outlining improvements that will be made to improve the barrier” or “fail to remove the barrier or make substantial progress after providing such a description,” only then may civil action be pursued.

The amendment would also require the notice to specify “the address of the property, the specific ADA sections alleged to have been violated, whether a request for assistance in removing an architectural barrier was made, and whether the barrier was permanent or temporary.”

Some disability rights activists have said the proposed reform act poses a threat to progress made in the last three decades since the ADA was passed.

These activists say that if the bill passes, disabled individuals will face even more structural barriers due to decreased protection under the ADA.

Eleanor Wheeler, a disability rights activist and founder of the We Exist collective, says the bill “effectively attacks the [ADA].”

According to Wheeler, HR 620 will “allow business to opt out of Title III of the ADA.”

Title III is a section of the ADA which requires businesses to make the changes necessary to be accessible to disabled people.

Wheeler said, “Even 27 years after the ADA was signed into law, the world is still hugely inaccessible to disabled people.”

In an Instagram post with over 1,000 likes, Wheeler described a few ways that inaccessibility affects her everyday life.

While you get ready for homecoming, know that I had to leave school because of inaccessibility. Next time you go on your family vacation, know that on my last trip home to LAX, the closest working elevator to get from my plane to baggage claim was in a different terminal. The next time you go to a store or a restaurant without a second thought, know that I am barred from most places due to inaccessibility. The next time you go to the doctor, know that I am currently in huge amounts of pain because the elevator was broken at my doctor’s office a few weeks ago (it JUST got fixed) and I was not able to get the care and medication I need.

“On a daily basis I encounter uncountable barriers,” Wheeler said. “We must go forward and work harder to create an accessible world, not backward.”

“This bill lets the responsibility of accessibility fall on the disabled person, not the business,” Wheeler said. “This is simply unacceptable.”