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And The War Is On!

by HolLynn D'Lil. Photos by Jamie Watson.

EDITOR'S UPDATE: the initiative has been withdrawn. See http://www.raggededgemagazine.com/departments/news/000808.html.

Disability civil rights activists in California staged a Sacramento street-theater protest as their first response to a proposed November 2006 ballot initiative that they say will destroy the ability to enforce California civil rights laws protecting the architectural accessibility rights of disabled Californians. (See earlier coverage of the Initiative at CA Activists to Battle Business Community Over Access, Ragged Edge Online, Jan. 10, 2006.)

attorney Amy Vandeveld yells at villian.
View protest photos.

Sponsored by the California Building Industry Association (CBIA) and the California Restaurant Association, the proposed initiative, misleadingly labeled "The Opportunity To Repair Act of 2006." was submitted to the California Attorney General in late December.

Though the initiative will not be released to the public for the gathering of signatures until mid-February, California disability rights activists staged their first action in front of CBIA offices in Sacramento only two and a half weeks after the initiative's filing. Actors in black hats labeled "CBIA" and "CA Restaurants" (and wearing black capes and mustaches to signify villains) wielded plastic bats and chains against the disabled protestors, providing the street theater that drew camera crews from television channels 3, 10 and 13, and Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. (See photos.)

Activists intended to send a clear message to proponents of the initiative that "the disability community will not be easily overtaken." After the event, participants immediately went into an organizing session to plan the next protest -- which plans call for staging in front of California Restaurant Association headquarters in February.

Disability activists say they plan to keep the media heat on the initiative proponents while disability civil rights attorneys plan other strategies.

A lawsuit was filed Jan. 23 against both the state and CBIA over the "constitutionality" issue. The suit argues that state and Federal laws intended to protect the rights of a minority cannot be "abrogated" by a ballot initiative, and attorneys working with the group say that if the initiative passes next November, it will immediately be challenged both in state and Federal court.

The broad scope of the proposed initiative is creating allies of diverse groups. Initiative protest planners say they'll reach out to homeowners' organizations, disabled veterans' organizations, senior organizations and organizations representing the rights of other minorities. Because the initiative as now written combines two unrelated issues -- residential construction defects and commercial building accessibility violations -- and guts current California law allowing both homeowners and disabled people to sue and collect damages for both problems, it in fact links California homeowners with the disability and elderly communities. All of these groups are targets of the initiative, for it proposes to take away their ability to get attorneys' fees paid in suits over defective housing construction.

Seventy initiatives have been approved for circulation for the ballot this November or are awaiting clearance by the Attorney General's Office. Read story from the Jan. 29 San Diego Union Tribune.


IT IS TEMPTING TO SAY that the initiative is awakening the sleeping giant. However, the largely politically untapped disability population of California has not been sleeping so much as it has been splintered into factions. With this initiative, though, it appears that those factions are putting aside differences and forming new bonds to defeat a common enemy. So the proposed "Opportunity To Repair Act of 2006" ballot initiative may be one of the best things that has happened to the disability community in California since the Section 504 protest that led to the takeover of the Federal Building in the San Francisco for three and a half weeks in 1977.

The so-called "Opportunity To Repair Act of 2006" is doing just that: It is giving the disability community an opportunity to repair its divisions and splits, and forge the kinds of alliances with other minority groups that the protestors for the 504 regulations achieved. This is turn will train and mobilize a new generation of activists who will be sorely needed in the times to come.

Given the possibility of a solid 5-to-4 U.S. Supreme Court votes against all minority rights for years to come (with an Alito confirmation), Californians with disabilities need all the experience in fighting prejudice and injustice that they can get.

HolLynn D'Lil is a California disability rights activist. Read her one-act play, Hello Goodbye Ada Who?

Freelance photographer Jamie Watson is a Systems Change Coordinator for CALIF (Communities Actively Living Independent and Free) in Los Angeles.

I am behind HolLynn 100%

Please take a few minutes to help stop this attack on our civil rights.
Please go to www.SaveCaADA.org and fill out the questionnaire.
Bob Roberts
Marin CIL
San Rafael, CA

Let me preface my remarks by saying I agree with the protest against the initiative. Hopefully the protests will be successful in stopping the builders and restaurant organizations. However...

Just a question--how do we know that the Supreme Court will decide against accessibility on future ADA related cases? They have decided pro-ADA in several recent higher profile cases. Is it possible that on the cases they went "against the ADA" they did so on cases which were bad and on the merits of the cases should not have been brought anyway?

An attorney once told me that good cases make good case law, but that bad cases make bad case law. Maybe the cases decided "against the ADA" were bad cases to start with.

Because someone has a disability (which I do) do they (I) have carte blanche to say "I'm disabled" and thereby should have anything I want without limitation? In a meeting in Washington DC a few years ago a staffer from the FTA said that the "ADA doesn't give people with disabilities special treatment, but only the same crappy treatment everyone else gets." That's all I am looking for is equal not special.

I am concerned, for instance, that someone is going to sue to take their "assist mouse" with them into a restaurant. Their case will go through the supreme court who may well rule that they don't have an unlimited right to their "assist mouse" in all situations. The case law coming from that decision could then well prevent people who are blind from having their see and eye dog with them or people with ataxia or who are in a wheelchair will then be unable to have their assist dog with them to help in case of falls etc.

On another front, isn't it time that we pushed harder for a better enforcement mechanism other than lawsuits at the federal level? Governments, businesses, organizations, etc have now had over 15 years to work toward accessibility. When will they start? Did the Federal Government give southern businesses 15 years to take down "black only" water fountains?

Hell they have had 15 yrs to repair and they are complaining now? Got to get more people to sue them under the Unruh Law. It should have been part of the ADA also.


504 Democratic Club NY
Torah Organisation for Disability Access (TODA)

Thanks for sharing on the topic of good/bad case law. I agree. The cases that make it that far usually have some controversy on both sides. The black and white cases are usually settle long before.

Thank you to Bob Segalman! Bob is a strong advocate in California, and the founder of Speech To Speech.

Thanks to Bob Roberts. He is creating a powerful web site for us. Amazing people with amazing talents are stepping forward. We will defeat this attempt to detroy out rights!

To the responder, Jimmy Webber, thank you for your comments. Just a few issues to discuss further: Re your comment about the U.S. Supreme Court, it's important to note that Title I of the ADA which covers employment has been gutted by Supreme Court decisions. See the Univeristy of Alabama v Garrett and United Airlines v Sutton, as well as other cases. Title II is going to go under attack until the Supreme Court decides the 11th Amendment issue once and for all. With a solid 5 to 4 vote now, without O'Connor as a swing, we may lose Title II. (Along with a lot of other minority rights.) Regarding Title III, the 90-day bill keeps popping up in Congress, which will basically relegate people with disabilities to an official second-class, sub-species status in it will be official that pwds do not suffer damage when they are discriminated against and that pwds have to go to unique and difficult extremes to enforce compliance with their civil protection laws.

Regarding the comment about better enforcement, I agree. However, the reality is that the Department of Justice is never going to have sufficient This is why the ADA allows enforcement through the private sector, that is, via a private attorney. The supporters of California's proposed "Opportunity To Repair Act of 2006" intitiative are overlooking the fact that if the initiative passes, state and local governments will be forced to enforce the access laws of California. This will put the burden of enforcement not on the private sector but upon the tax payer.

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