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Protecting the Americans with Disabilities Act

Protecting the Americans with Disabilities Act

Rabbi Jonah Pesner at JDAD

Last week’s Jewish Disability Advocacy Day helped kick off Jewish Disability Awareness and Inclusion Month (JDAIM). JDAD was an exciting opportunity to learn and advocate, and helped set the advocacy agenda for disability rights in the 115th Congress. JDAD provided the opportunity to hear from experts about some of the most issues that Congress will address in the next two years

A troubling, but important, piece of legislation regarding disability rights in the 115th Congress is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Education and Reform Act. The bill, which was first introduced in the 114th Congress, has already been re-introduced in the House as H.R. 620, and will likely be introduced in the Senate in the near future. The proposed legislation would chip away at the civil rights protections the ADA has provided for the last 26 years and would set a dangerous precedent for similar action in the future. The bill would amend the ADA to give public accommodations 60 days to acknowledge that their establishment is not compliant with the ADA, and would then provide them an additional 120 days to begin fixing the problem. Only then could an individual file a lawsuit to require businesses to make necessary changes. This unnecessarily delays finding a solution for a problem that should not have existed in the first place.  It would also make people with disabilities the only group protected by civil rights law subject to a waiting period.

The legislation is intended to cut down on burdensome regulations for businesses, but instead it provides a free pass to be noncompliant for a longer period of time. Title III of the ADA, which this legislation seeks to amend, already does not allow monetary damages in ADA suits. Monetary awards are only available through a handful of state laws, which this bill would do nothing to change. Businesses benefit when all people can patronize their establishments. The bill attempts to solve a problem it cannot change, and instead creates a new one its place. If the law passes, people with disabilities could have to wait six months if a grocery store, movie theatre, or coffee shop was inaccessible. A business that is inaccessible 26 years after the ADA passed should not be given an additional six month free pass.

As Reform Jews, there is little question about the need to work for a more accessible, inclusive society. Leviticus teaches, “You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14).

JDAD provided the opportunity to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities. We were able to educate members of Congress about the necessity of a strong ADA. We have an obligation to create a just country in which all people feel equally included. ADA protections are one of the ways to make this a reality.  Take action and urge your member of Congress to preserve the protections the ADA mandates by opposing the ADA Education and Reform Act. 

Nathan Bennett is a Legislative Associate at the Religious Action Center. Previously, he served as a 2016-2017 Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. Originally from Wilmette, IL, he is a member of Ner Tamid Ezra Habonim Egalitarian Minyan and graduated from Northwestern University.

Nathan Bennett