HR 620, Call to Action by Ben Zeitler

Friends of Little Lobbyists:

My son, Pierce, is four. He enjoys school tremendously. He is in his terrible fours, which he carried over from being three. He is extremely opinionated. Pierce just wants to play with his friends and his toys and terrorize his parents, like any good four year old does. He is learning and growing and doing great. Pierce also has some medical complexities: he cannot hold his own body up, is deafblind, has a tracheostomy, is fed through a tube, and relies on a wheelchair to get around. He is non-verbal. Even with everything just mentioned, Pierce is really just a normal kid. He is thriving in large part due to his resilience, but also because of the protections afforded him by both the Affordable Care Act and access to buildings and services because of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The ADA gives people with disabilities equal access to things that may not have been accessible prior to 1990.  For example, this means that when my family visits a restaurant, we know that there will be a wheelchair accessible entrance we can use. There are many children similar to Pierce and unfortunately, the US House of Representatives, in late 2017, passed a bill through the House Judiciary Committee which could make it harder for families with children who are medically complex, as well as others with disabilities, to have access to the same spaces as everyone else. It died down for a while, but now this bill is back and could be brought to a floor vote as soon at 2/14/2018 or 2/15/2018.

Sometimes it is difficult for our children to do things because their equipment is big and bulky; they sometimes can’t go up or down stairs, or squeeze into small spaces. They sometimes struggle to have access to the same businesses, schools, education, and restaurants that everyone else can easily attain. Now some members of the House want to make it harder. We shouldn’t stand for that.

The bill is called H.R. 620 – The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017. The bill doesn’t really focus on education though. Instead, it is a way for businesses to delay, or get out of, making accommodations for people with disabilities by putting the onus on the victim, not the business. The basics of the bill require the person who is aggrieved or doesn’t have access (as is now protected by law) to find out who the owner is, write a letter (including referring to the section of the ADA the owner is not following), wait up to 60 days, receive a letter, wait up to 120 more days and then take them to court. Even then, if the business has shown to have made “substantial progress” then the case can be thrown out. This is hard and confusing to understand, not to mention completely unreasonable for a non-attorney to complete on their own. This means that if, for example, your child’s therapist is in a building without a ramp, the owner wouldn’t have to build one right away. They could delay for six months and there is nothing that you or a lawyer could do about it. HR 620 would prevent you from being able to bring forth a lawsuit immediately. Basically, your legislators want the person who was discriminated against, and doesn’t have equal access, to wait. Someone who is of a different race or creed would not have to wait six months to file suit if they were turned away service or had to sit in a different section of a restaurant. It is not right that people with disabilities must wait six months (or more) for access.

Instead of making things better for our kids (and adults – who they will all eventually become) who have complex medical needs, this law would make it harder. This law would allow people to discriminate against our children and make them wait for equal access. This should not be tolerated. I do not want my son to be considered a second-class citizen. I want him to have all the access that anyone else does.

Supporters of this law have argued that it would provide reduce frivolous lawsuits and give businesses the chance to comply with the law rather than being sued immediately. The thing is, there are not many frivolous lawsuits to begin with. Furthermore, business owners and the Federal Government have had almost 30 years to understand and get used to the ADA. Everyone knows what it is and what the rules are. This bill is not going to make things better for people with disabilities. It is just going to make everything less accessible and less equal by delaying and stalling and treating my child like someone who doesn’t deserve access like everyone else. I will not stand for this. YOUshould not stand for this.

Please call your House representative and urge them to vote no on this bill. You can reach the congressional switchboard at 202.224.3121 and provide them your ZIP code and they will connect you to your representative. You can also go to http://www.house.gov and in the upper right corner enter your ZIP code to get your representative so you can contact them directly via phone or email or at a town hall. If you would like more information about H.R. 620 – The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, below are some resources.

Resources:

LegislationLaura Hatcher