The Quiet Attack on the ADA Making Its Way Through Congress

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AP/Susan Walsh Protesters supporting people with disabilities gather outside the White House in Washington, May 15, 2017.

In the current political climate, the assault on Americans with disabilities is no longer limited to attempts to strip them of health care, take away the services millions need to live independently and to work, or make deep cuts to programs that help many make ends meet. Now a bill making its way through Congress threatens to roll back the civil rights of people with disabilities by exactly 27 years. The bill, misleadingly titled the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, would hack away at the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990, the landmark civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability and mandates that people with disabilities have “equal opportunity” to participate in American life.

The bill would roll back disability rights and inclusion

Prior to the Americans with Disabilities Act, it was far more arduous for Americans with disabilities to participate in mainstream society. Public places such as hospitals and restaurants were often inaccessible to people with disabilities, and these individuals had no recourse against the owners of these establishments who, in effect, barred them from entry. After the passage of the ADA, places of public accommodation—that is, privately owned, leased, or operated facilities—were required to take proactive steps to be reasonably accessible to people with disabilities.

Although the ADA has enabled people with disabilities to participate far more fully in public life, some businesses remain inaccessible because of architectural obstacles, such as inaccessible entrances, bathrooms too small to accommodate someone in a wheelchair, and lack of curb cuts, to name just a few. Fortunately, under Title III of the ADA, people with disabilities have the right to file lawsuits against proprietors of businesses that lack reasonable accommodations. Indeed, despite businesses’ obligation to take proactive steps towards accessibility, litigation has been the mechanism through which many gains for people with disabilities have been achieved since 1990. But the ADA Education and Reform Act, which has been met with deep opposition from the disability community, would fundamentally weaken this process in ways that would make it prohibitively burdensome for many people with disabilities to enforce their long-standing civil rights.

What the bill would do

The ADA Education and Reform Act would create onerous red tape for people with disabilities attempting to enforce their rights under the ADA. Specifically, the bill requires anyone seeking to file a lawsuit under Title III to first provide written notice to the business owners in violation of the law, citing very specific details regarding the provisions of the statute that apply to their particular case. Business owners would then have 60 days to acknowledge the violation and another 120 days to at least make “substantial progress” towards rectifying it. This means that under the bill, places of public accommodation—which have had nearly three decades to comply with the ADA—would have yet another six months just to begin to rectify their violations of the law. As the American Civil Liberties Union points out, under this bill, “Business owners can spend years out of compliance and face no penalty even after they receive notice, so long as the owners claim ‘substantial progress.’” People with disabilities, in turn, would have to wait at least that long to access justice.

The bill is based on exaggerated claims

This latest attempt to curtail the civil rights of people with disabilities was reignited by a popular “60 Minutes” segment alleging the widespread filing of frivolous Title III lawsuits by attorneys who spot ADA violations using, for example, Google Earth. The segment implies that people with disabilities have no complaints about the noncompliant establishments but that, because of these lawsuits, business owners end up with a bill that many of them cannot afford to foot. It’s important to note that under Title III, those in violation of the ADA do not have to pay any monetary damages, only attorney’s fees and injunctive relief, meaning business owners must remedy the violation.

So-called frivolous lawsuits, however, are nowhere near as pervasive as proponents of the ADA Education and Reform Act suggest. Proponents of the bill point to increases over the past several years in Title III filings, including a 37 percent uptick in 2016 compared with 2015. But a quick look at the numbers shows that this increase is easily explained by a small number of large-scale filers. In fact, just 12 individual attorneys and a single disability law firm were responsible for more than one-third of all Title III lawsuits filed in 2016, accounting for more than 100 cases each.

Even in the unlikely event that all of these large-scale filers’ lawsuits were indeed frivolous—which is disproven by the fact that many of them have brought to light very real violations of the ADA—they would hardly present an issue systemic enough to warrant federal intervention, particularly when such an intervention would gut a decades-old civil rights law. Additionally, protections against the filing of frivolous lawsuits are enshrined in existing ethics rules. As disability rights lawyer Robyn Powell notes, frivolous lawsuits can already be addressed through district courts, as well as by state bar associations.

What proponents of the ADA Education and Reform Act also seem to ignore is that Title III of the ADA was, in many respects, the product of a compromise between the disability community and business interests. As a result, businesses are only required to provide accommodations when doing so doesn’t present an “undue burden” and when they are “readily achievable”—that is, technically feasible and affordable. What’s more, there have long been in place federally funded resources to help businesses comply with the law, including ten regional centers that provide technical assistance and trainings in every state. And again, under the ADA, plaintiffs are unable to obtain monetary damages from businesses. Any settlements or court orders involving monetary damages are based on state laws, not the ADA.


Places of public accommodation have had a full 27 years to comply with Title III of the ADA. Yet, despite substantial gains since 1990 when the ADA was signed into law, American society is still rife with architectural barriers that prevent people with disabilities from fully participating in public life. The ADA Education and Reform Act all but condones the businesses that, nearly three decades after the ADA was enacted, have yet to comply. As the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities has noted, there exists “no other law that outlaws discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity” until after victims of that discrimination inform business owners that they’re breaking the law.

Eliza Schultz is the research assistant for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center for American Progress. Rebecca Cokley is a senior fellow working on disability policy at the Center. Rebecca Vallas is the managing director of the Poverty to Prosperity Program at the Center.


Trashcan Poet

Waste Paper Basket

Trashcan poetry,

Words subtle and blunt

Swimming at the bottom of the wire mesh sea.

I am the consummate trashcan poet

Because nothing is ever good enough for me.

Countless books of cocktail napkin poetry,

That no one will ever see.

Sometimes though,

I’d rather be the trashcan poet,

Writing pieces of cocktail napkin inspiration,

Book after book written that binding will never see.

Each and every one written over a double shot of espresso,

And when you find them,

Even without a name,

I wrote them all,

Even if I didn’t.

Because I am them,

And they are me.

Trashcan poetry,

Words subtle and blunt

Swimming at the bottom of the wire mesh sea.

I am the consummate trashcan poet

Because nothing is ever good enough for me.

But may my words inspire you,

So that they can be set free.

Jasmine Latte

Image of Latte with a foam heart

The espresso machines and grinders abruptly spring to life.

A Jasmine latte bedazzled with a floating foam heart,

It seemed like a perfect drink for reminiscence,

Like the day our eyes first met,

I was lost in your mystic pools of hazel,

As I watched your lips move slowly,

More lost and enchanted with every syllable,

Even the misshapen ones.

We both knew that sometimes,

My words would never reach your ears,

And there were times when your gestures

Would appear before a blind mind.

I entered your world as you entered mine,

Over time we communicated in the language of the intertwined.

My hand in yours, and yours in mine.

And at some point

Our bodies learned to move in the same rhythm and time.

And when our souls were not interlocked,

We still would never watch the clock.

Intermittent gratification,

But the matter what, always a feeling of complete elation.

Talking and laughing all the while,

And then I slowly seem to remember,

A forced journey of 10 years and a couple hundred miles.

The espresso machines and grinders abruptly spring to life.

A Jasmine latte bedazzled with a floating foam heart,

It seemed like a perfect drink for reminiscence,

Because now, you’re a figment of memory, of mind.

The Jasmine latte is the symbol,

And you were the meaning of the sign.





Feels like yesterday.

But it feels like forever,

At the same time, there are moments when I feel like I can hardly remember.

Your face fades in and out from view,

The details of conversations past,

Scattered across time,

With only bits on the brain.

Your words of wisdom,

Now in a staccato rhythm,

Bounce, echoing in the caverns of my mind.

You would bring order to the chaos of the unit.

You always assured us that everything would be fine.

Now with physicality dissolved,

Ever on my mind,

Especially when I’m not sure that everything will be fine.

But it was an honor and a pleasure to have served with you, 

Regardless of how brief the stint ,

In this thing called life.


Actors in a Play

To pick up where my friend left off in our discussion about integrity, I want to bring forth something interrelated. It involves the various roles we have to step into throughout our lives. We believe this is important because how we play our roles determines how those close to us will think about us long after we are gone. Does this sound grim to you? Only if you hold a negative opinion of your own mortality.

The Stoic View on Roles

If you have been reading our articles up to now, you probably know that the Stoics are not emotionally repressive and boring individuals, but dynamic human beings who attempt to utilize reason in their daily lives. This extends to how we could fit into society because the Stoics were not like the Epicureans, a rival philosophical school that encouraged distance from politics and society due to the psychological pain these topics cause. I could talk all day about these historical curiosities, but I have subjected myself to the role of a blogger not a scholar; I only write these articles to help illuminate how this ancient philosophy could help us live better lives. My scholarly desires will have to wait. Whether you like it or not, we all have multiple roles to play, for example, I have to play the role of a brother, an uncle, a son, a clerk, a friend, etc. The Stoics came from all walks of life, Epictetus being a former slave turned mentor had this to say about roles:

“We are like actors in a play. The divine will has assigned us our roles in life without consulting us. Some of us will act in a short drama, others in a long one. We might be assigned the part of a poor person, a cripple, a distinguished celebrity or public leader, or an ordinary citizen.”

A Day in the Life of a Courtesy Clerk

Let’s take my job as a courtesy clerk as an example of a role. I have to greet customers with a smile and ask how their day is going; this is essentially small talk so topics like politics, sex and religion are forbidden to bring up. And if you have to ask why, then I’m going to assume you haven’t lived in polite society for that long. Jokes aside, the manual on what a courtesy clerk has to be is that they are the diplomats of the grocery store because courtesy clerks are often the first face a customer sees and the last person they interact with; this extends to helping customers carry their groceries to their vehicles. The ultimate goal is to leave a lasting impression on the customer so that they return to see our warm personalities. The reality is that we are all human and stress and personal issues sometimes interfere with the execution of that role. Like I mentioned in a previous article, I had to deal with social anxiety and depression, once I got a handle on these issues my next question to myself was, how can I execute my role?

Courtesy Clerk Service

Recently, I had received a compliment from a customer for going out of my way to provide her with helpful information and options. This person has GI issues and, according to the advice of her doctor, she could only eat gluten-free foods. She was searching for a specific brand that my store used to carry and I discovered that it was no longer sold; I could see the disappointment on her face and proceeded to ask my boss if there were any options we could give her. He told me and I relayed the information to her and then I apologized on behalf of the district and told her that we are thankful for her continued loyalty. This is an example on how to be amiable and courteous. I could have told her, “oh well, we can’t do anything,” or simply asked another colleague to help her so I wouldn’t have to deal with her, but that would have been a decision made by my anxious self; I didn’t want to feed that emotion.

The Inevitability of Playing a Role

This is only one example of how playing a role is inevitable when you become aware of what people are struggling with and how you fit into the larger world. And there are moments when life calls on us to step out of a role briefly. When I assist some customers to their vehicles, they start to tell me very personal details about their lives, including grieving and divorce; in these moments I have felt uncomfortable because it is not my place to dispense advice, but when they are going through something that I have personally gone through myself, for example grief,  I briefly step out of my worker bee role and offer a little of my experience with the matter. Often times, the person feels better and this actually causes them to come back to the store, glad that there are empathetic workers. I’m not a grief counselor nor am I a Machiavellian, but I look at it as fulfilling two roles, a courtesy clerk and a human being. And to leave one more quote from Epictetus, he had this to say:

“Although we can’t control which roles are assigned us, it must be our business to act our given role as best as we possibly can and to refrain from complaining about it. Wherever you find yourself and in whatever circumstances, give an impeccable performance.”


There are so many other examples we could give about playing our roles. It is everywhere from roles in the military to roles in political positions (we won’t do president bashing here, regardless of our personal opinions). Roles are definitely related to the Stoic theme of fate, integrity and facing our mortality because if you can’t play a role decently, you either have to take a hard look at your own priorities or reconsider what is actually in your ability to play. Until next time!


Clipped and Songless

Little bird, tell me

Who clipped your wings?

Who told you that you could no longer fly?

Or how the blue bird sings.

Little bird tell me,

Who implanted a burden so hard?

That One Day in Silence,

You felt you had to play the paranoia card?

Singing your own virtue, hardship, praise,

While other’s dreams,

You cast in doubt

Or fail to raise,

Caged in your own mind,

You pretend to be secure,

You only sing to shout,

So that others will demure.

You tell the younglings

To reach for the sky,

Even though you’re a tether,

So that they’ll never fly to high.

Sometimes even clipped their wings,

So they’ll forget how to fly.

Little bird, tell me

Who clipped your wings?

Who told you that you could no longer fly?

Or how the blue bird sings.

“You Can’t Do It.” And Other Negative Things in My Mind — The Armchair of the Socratic Buffoons

What the Depressed Mind Says to You My fellow Socratic Buffoon just talked about his experience with depression, now it is my turn to angle the magnifying glass to my own mind. I have struggled with depression for awhile, I would say for 12 years now. It manifests as a low mood with irritability and […]

via “You Can’t Do It.” And Other Negative Things in My Mind — The Armchair of the Socratic Buffoons