Cover Story: 10 years & 90 days

Actor Clint Eastwood went on a media offensive in May against the Americans with Disabilities Act. Eastwood's testimony May 18 before a House Subcommittee capped his very public campaign for the ADA Notification Act, a bill to prohibit individuals from bringing lawsuits to enforce Title III of the ADA without first providing notice of the alleged violation to the defendant -- and then waiting 90 days for the defendant "to take corrective action."

His Mission Ranch hotel was sued without warning, he insisted; "make my day" Dirty Harry told the Wall Street Journal that suits against businesses for inaccessibility were "a racket."

"The typical thing is to get someone who is disabled in collusion with sleazebag lawyers, and they file suits." He bragged that he was enlisting Christopher Reeve to help fight the law, and said attorneys who take ADA lawsuits were "morally corrupt."

At the hearing, though, a very different story emerged.

There is a premise underlying this bill that I do not understand. It is the idea that people need a special invitation to comply with a law passed by Congress and signed by the President -- in this case, a Republican President.

July will be 10 years since the ADA was passed. Anyone who truly cares about accessibility has had ample opportunity to find out what the law requires and to conform their conduct to the law. The State of Maryland is not required to send me a letter informing me that I am speeding before it stops my car; there is no reason that someone who is violating the ADA should need notice either. Not only is ignorance of law no excuse, but in the case of the ADA there is no excuse for being ignorant of the law.

Statement of Andrew D. Levy, Attorney, Baltimore, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution.

. . . People with disabilities are still experiencing discrimination in public accommodations 10 years after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Owners of public accommodations have had 10 years of notice -- and it makes no sense that they need an additional 90 days before an individual with a disability can protect her legal rights in court.

Why should a person who is blind and uses a guide dog for mobility assistance have to wait 90 days after they've been denied access to a restaurant? Why should a person who uses a wheelchair who has been denied access to a restaurant that was recently remodeled but failed to comply with state and federal access laws have to wait 90 days after their civil rights have been violated? Why should a person who has mental retardation wait 90 days to invoke a court's jurisdiction after being told by a restaurant owner that he won't serve him because he doesn't think the other customers want to look at him? Why should a man with cerebral palsy have to wait 90 days after being refused service at a liquor store and escorted out of the store by local police who call him retarded? Why should a young man who uses a wheelchair have to wait 90 days to file a lawsuit after a taxi driver tells him he does not pick up people who are "crippled" in his cab because he doesn't want to help them. Why should the parents of a 4-year-child with Down syndrome have to wait 90 days to file a lawsuit against an after-school music program that denied the child's access because of the director's discomfort? . . .

Acts of egregious discrimination still happen every day, and Congress was aware of that fact 10 years ago. Congress heard examples like those that I cited when the ADA was passed without a waiting period . And I am here to tell you that these issues still persist 10 years later. . . .

Statement of Christine Griffin, Attorney and Director, Disability Law Center, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution.

H.R. 3590, the ADA Notification Act, would prohibit individuals from bringing lawsuits to enforce Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act without first providing notice of the alleged violation to the defendant and then waiting 90 days for the defendant to take corrective action.

The ADA Notification Act is backed by The National Federation of Independent Business, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association and the International Council of Shopping Centers. Disability rights advocates say it's simply a strategy for opening up the ADA again in Congress, as a way to water it down and eventually kill it.

When my grandpa died last year and I went to the funeral I had to be carried up and down the steps because the funeral home was not accessible. My family talked with the funeral director and told him about the ADA and how he was violating my civil rights by his building not being accessible. He promised that he would make it accessible. My grandma went and checked on this a few months later to make sure the funeral director kept his word, and he did. He installed a lift so that other people who use wheelchairs would not have to be carried up the steps. I feel that this bill that Mr. Eastwood is lobbying for is a bill that was designed to weaken the ADA and take away the civil rights of people with disabilities. Doesn't he understand that the ADA has been in place for 10 years and that if you renovate a building you must make it accessible to people with disabilities? He failed to do that and now wants the Congress to support him in his failure to comply with a law that is clearly written. It's already bad enough when I go on field trips with my school. I always have to be segregated from my classmates to enter the building that we are visiting. Why are people with disabilities singled out as the only class required to give advance notification of their violation of civil rights? I'm a member of the public and I have rights too!
Statement of Kyle Glozier, testifying before the Subcommittee.

With the assistance of the Internal Revenue Service, we notified, each year for seven years, over six million businesses of their ADA responsibilities and how to obtain information on how to comply. Our toll-free ADA Information Line, established in 1994, received more than 100,000 calls in Fiscal Year 1999. We have published and disseminated 40 technical assistance documents, including approximately 500,000 copies of the ADA Guide for Small Businesses. All of our technical assistance documents are available 24 hours a day through our fax-on-demand system or on our ADA home page on the Internet, which was viewed at least 6,000,000 times last year. We have provided funds to several trade associations to develop and disseminate industry-specific guides for hotels and motels, grocery stores, restaurants, builders and contractors, medical professionals, child care providers, and small businesses generally. We sent a packet of 33 ADA educational documents to approximately 6,000 Chambers of Commerce and placed an ADA Information File, containing 94 ADA publications in 15,000 local public libraries. Since 1991, the Department of Education has funded 10 regional Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers, which provide training and technical assistance to businesses in their communities.

Statement of Robert Raben, Assistant Attorney General.

I wish we were meeting at Clint Eastwood's Mission Ranch rather than here in Washington. If we were there, I could take all of you on a tour of this property and you could see for yourself the numerous barriers, still there after three years of litigation, that keep people with disabilities who use wheelchairs from having equal access to this beautiful, recently remodeled resort.

Statement of Fred Shotz, Florida Paraplegic Association.

At hearing's end, away from the media spotlight, the veteran actor's hope for a fast-track amendment seemed to wane, with Subcommittee Chair Rep. Charles Canady (R. FL) calling for "further investigation" into the issue.

Editor's note: In mid-July, just as thousands were starting to celebrate the ADA's 10th anniversary, word went out that House Republicans were trying to pass the ADA Notification Act through a stealthy "suspension of the rules" tactic, and advocates mobilized to fight yet another battle over the ADA.


Back to table of contents

© Copyright 2000 The Ragged Edge

This Website produced by Cliffwood Organic Works