OPINION: Americans with Disabilities Act gutted as country mourns Florida shooting

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A letter to the editor by Laurel Smith of Medford, NJ

On Thursday, February 15th while many of us were following the awful shooting in Florida, the 115th Congress voted to strip away key provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act. While just outside their chambers, the voices of hundreds of activists, many with disabilities, were ignored.

Some were arrested, physically removed from their wheelchairs and carried off by the capitol police. This congress is so polarized it ignored the voice of Senator Tammi Duckworth (D-IL.), a disabled veteran, who lost both her legs fighting in Iraq. This is not acceptable. This is not the land of the free and home of the brave!

As a special educator and parent of an adult with disabilities I am outraged. As a resident of New Jersey’s third Congressional district, I am once again disappointed to learn that my Congressman, Tom MacArthur, co-sponsored and voted for legislation that discriminates against individuals with disabilities. Congressman MacArthur talks about donating wheelchairs to disabled individuals thru his foundation, but his own office at Gibson House [in Marlton] is on the third floor and not accessible to his own disabled constituents!

By a vote of 225 to 192, largely across party lines, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “ADA Education and Reform Act” (H.R. 620). Purportedly this bill is meant to “strengthen” Title 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Title 3 prohibits architectural barriers, thus ensuring individuals with disabilities access to public businesses, stores, doctors’ offices, recreations facilities, schools, etc.  Since its inception, the ADA has made available its “National Network” which provides free technical assistance to businesses. Yet, this congress’s version “enhancing” the law is to benefit businesses who are sued because they don’t “understand” their obligations under the ADA.

The truth is the “ADA Education and Reform Act” (H.R. 620) significantly increases the burden and delay on the disabled, in order to challenge companies in court when their facilities are not fully accessible. Under this legislation, businesses have 60 days to respond to a complaint and an additional 60 days to begin the improvements. This denies people with disabilities the access which they are entitled to under the law. Individuals with disabilities are marginalized enough and are entitled to the same access as those without disabilities. The thought of waiting at least 120 days to access a public building is absurd!

Editor’s note: The opinions in this letter are the author’s only.

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