Advocates: Federal bill would gut Americans with Disabilities Act

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FARMINGVILLE -

Advocates say they're concerned that federal lawmakers could soon pass a bill that would strip away rights from people with disabilities.

The ADA Education and Reform Act would undermine parts of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, according to the ACLU.

The bill would make it harder for people with disabilities to sue businesses that don't provide accessibility, advocates say. They argue it would eliminate the need for businesses or other entities to meet accessibility requirements until after a complaint is filed against them.

The complaints would have to be submitted in writing and meet specific requirements, including identifying the exact part of the law that is violated. The person who filed the complaint would also have to wait 180 days or more for the company to fix the problem – 60 days to respond and 120 days to give a chance for the business to show "significant progress."

ADA advocate Clinton Brown, of Hicksville, says people with disabilities could have to wait even longer if the issue gets drawn out in court.

Brown was born with a form of dwarfism. He says opening doors that don't have an electric pushbutton system is difficult.

"Usually, I have to wait for somebody without a disability to come and open the door," he says. 

And that's why he says he cannot understand why federal lawmakers would change the ADA rules.

"It shouldn't be on me to tell the government what's being violated and how to approach it," he says.

Rep. Kathleen Rice is a co-sponsor of the bill. A spokesman for Rice issued the following statement to News 12:

"Rep. Rice fully supports the ADA and is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities have equal access to all places of public accommodation. Right now, business- and property-owners can be immediately sued even for minor, technical ADA violations that in many cases the owners aren't aware of, such as improper signage. Under H.R. 620, owners would be notified and given the chance to quickly correct any violations before they can be sued. Rep. Rice believes that's a fair and reasonable compromise that will help remove barriers and expand accessibility while still ensuring that people are held fully accountable if they refuse to comply with the law. Rep. Rice has met with many constituents to discuss the bill and address their concerns, and she will continue to do so." 

Rep. Tom Suozzi was initially a co-sponsor but changed his mind and withdrew his support. A spokesperson for Suozzi says the congressman fully supports the ADA.

"While he understands that small businesses deal with too many regulatory hurdles, any solution cannot abridge the rights of people with disabilities to fully access the communities in which they live and work," he said.

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