Hello, Sparkly Society. It’s been a while since we have done a Disability News! Welcome back. If you’re reading this on our blog, yes, common sense has finally kicked in, and this is the accessibility Frill-Ability has needed. (It took me a while. I am sorry.) Our long podcasting break has been due to my own health and disability. On Tuesday, September 19, I had my final Spinal Cord Stimulator surgery. I’m an electricity producing cyborg now, very exciting stuff.
Despite being holed up in bed, the following story quite literally ejected me out of my little pillow-fort two weeks ago in rage. Even if “everything turns out fine” and “it will never get passed” like people say when issues do not affect them, the ramifications of the following are very serious.
We have covered articles about Medicaid cuts. This is worse. Congress is trying to rip apart ADA, specifically Title III. The article reporting on the issue is entitled, “The Quiet Attack on the ADA Making Its Way through Congress” by Eliza Schultz, Rebecca Cokley, and Rebecca Vallas of the Center for American Progress.
Let’s go over the main points:
A. What rights does Title III give us?
“Title III prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in the activities of places of public accommodations (businesses that are generally open to the public and that fall into one of 12 categories listed in the ADA, such as restaurants, movie theaters, schools, day care facilities, recreation facilities, and doctors' offices) and requires newly constructed or altered places of public accommodation—as well as commercial facilities (privately owned, nonresidential facilities such as factories, warehouses, or office buildings)—to comply with the ADA Standards.”
B. How is this bill, blocking Title III, written?
“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.”
C. WHY is this happening?
You know when your mom used to watch an Oprah Show episode about a serial killer, and then you were banned from everything for weeks because the whole world was bad? I was angry with Oprah for a long time. Quite literally, a “60 Minutes Special” is the Oprah special for conservatives. ...or at least the scapegoat of the moment. I’m not amused. It’s not endearing and forgivable, like we could forgive our moms when they eventually moved on to something else.
“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.”
I am sure there are a few crooks, but what gets me the most is that people are finally taking a stand against injustice, and the government feels bad for the businesses who should have been compliant in the first place. Instead of being creative and helping people access their businesses, they screwed up. They should pay those fines. They had plenty of time and did not want to. They knew that disabled people existed in the world when they chose their properties.
What do I mean by “being creative?” Let’s define that. We all know some buildings are just old. Not all of them can, say, have an elevator. But they could install wheelchair lifts. They come in many varieties for just about EVERY need. The Inclined Stair Platform Lift is, in my opinion, the best solution for a steeper, greater number of stairs, for example, in an older apartment building where a Vertical Platform Lift is not feasible. (Hint: crowdfunding!)
Now, all some buildings need are a ramp or two. That is extra easy not to mention much more affordable. Why wouldn’t they do this? Some of them buy a ramp, and it’s a safety nightmare because they did not do their due diligence to research the proper installation, length, and ADA requirements. In fact, I have flipped out of my chair in the snow due to a business’s negligence. Others could renovate their bathrooms, for example, turning two inaccessible tiny stalls into a single-occupant accessible toilet. No, this is not anything most businesses I have visited think about.
One queer Chicago venue I will not name insisted to me it was accessible during Pride. I pointed out on their Facebook event that nowhere could I find any information about accessibility, and event organisers vehemently defended themselves, silencing me, but not ever answering my questions in a satisfactory manner, even in private message. I did not attend their event as I did not feel safe, or most others during Pride for this reason. They were mostly inaccessible.
Months later, I went there with crutches. It was a good thing I did not have my wheelchair. That elevator they promised existed in private message? I could not access it from the outside. I had to use the stairs which hurt a lot. I danced for about a song and a half, one with crutches and one without, supported by a partner. If I didn't have to use the stairs, I probably would not have had to sit most of the night, exhausted and in pain.
The biggest pain and exhaustion always hits me days later. For about three days after the weekend, I was in bed, unable to leave the house. I had wanted to have a weekend of adventure, and I can tell you exactly the number of things I was able to do, how I felt doing them. It would have been different if I hadn't hauled myself up a large staircase.
Some other things happened there that I really did not appreciate as well, but I don’t want to make a big stink in a community I love. My point being---if I wanted to file a complaint with this business and this law passed, absolutely nothing would happen. They would continue to be inaccessible with no consequences. Disabled people will never matter to them.
The government sides with able business owners and decides to further condemn the disabled. We won’t be able to tell: “restaurants, hotels, theaters, convention centers, retail stores, shopping centers, dry cleaners, laundromats, pharmacies, doctors' offices, hospitals, museums, libraries, parks, zoos, amusement parks, private schools, day care centers, health spas, and bowling alleys,” “Hey, we deserve to be here.” We will have no place to go.
What is most depressing to me is that I started writing this two weeks ago, September 23, and I still have not heard a single thing about this topic in the news. I have not seen anything pop in my news feed. Usually, I get worried when I am behind on my work some other writer is going to get to the hot story first, but I am more worried now that they have not. Why aren’t we talking about this?
What are you going to do about it? What will your life look like when your rights are taken away? How much will you care when someone you love cannot access public places? Will you help them? To what end?
Sorel Estrada Volpe
Correction to podcast audio: I stated a figure in the audio, converting days to months. I was incorrect. 180 days = 6 months. ~30 days to a month*6 = 180. Sorry about that! I was a Mathematics Minor in college, but I can be terrible at doing simple math in my head.