In 1990, President George H.W. Bush passed the Americans with Disabilities Act — a law put into place to ensure the equal rights of nearly 60 million disabled Americans nationwide, including myself.
Now, almost three decades later, the GOP-led government wants to shut it down.
People participate in the inaugural Disability Pride Parade on July 12, 2015, in New York City. Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images.
U.S. House representatives were set to approve a bill on Feb. 8, 2018, that aimed to weaken the ADA by eliminating incentives for business owners to comply with the law mandating equal access to public places.
But some congressmen argue the decision to strip the ADA would take away the very thing this law grants to disabled Americans: equality.
"Right now, the way the ADA is structured, the reason why businesses are going to comply is that they might be sued," said Jennifer Mathis, director of policy and legal advocacy for the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law in Washington, D.C. "Once you take that away, that’s it, there’s no consequence. If you’re a business, there’s no reason why you need to worry about making yourself accessible."
The ADA ensures businesses take steps to be accessible to people with disabilities. Without it, it could mean limited access, job displacement, or drastic pay cuts for disabled Americans.
Under one proposed change, disabled individuals would have to provide business owners with a written notice if there’s a lack of accessibility to enter the business or with the services they offer. Business owners would have 60 days to acknowledge the problem, and an additional 120 days to make substantial changes. In short, people with disabilities would have to wait a total of 180 days to re-enforce their civil rights.
If the business owners fail to comply, they can be sued. Proponents of stripping the ADA say that the lawsuits are already out of control. Some lawyers looking for payouts conduct what are called "drive-by lawsuits" — suing businesses for a misplaced sign or ramp out of place to make a quick buck.
Yet these lawsuits are already happening and are evidence that the current legislation needs improvement more than further rollbacks.
As an American woman with cerebral palsy, I'm scared of what I stand to lose.
Today, I have the same rights as any other American, able-bodied or not. I can hold my job as a journalist and writer. I earn a decent wage. I have a right to enter all businesses: everything from shopping malls and restaurants to hotels and grocery stores.
What happens to my life if businesses don't have to create ways to help me access them?
I think about the long road I’ve taken to earn my place as a contributing member of society. If the GOP does take the ADA away, they’re taking my livelihood, and millions of others', with it.