Steve Heronemus

Disability Rights Threatened Again

Thursday, February 15, 2018 the U. S. House of Representatives passed the #ADA Education and Reform Act. This Act, likely to make it into law, requires people who are denied access to places of business to A) write the property owner within five days to notify the owner of the violation, then B) wait 6 months for the property owner to remedy the problem before filing any lawsuit.
Let me tell you a story. I was seeking psychological therapy for my PTSD, which has significantly worsened since the onset of ALS. After months of searching for a qualified therapist who would allow my caregiver in the session as a translator (this was before my speech device), the one I found was in this building: 


You may well ask, “Isn’t there a ramp?” Sure, there is a ramp. It looks like this:  

View from bottom

View from top

It is more like a ski jump. How is it out of compliance with the ADA? Let me count the ways: 

  1. Too narrow
  2. Too steep
  3. Sections of handrail are missing
  4. Rail has no guard to prevent wheels from falling through
  5. Landings at turn and the top are less than 33 inches wide; the ADA requires 48 inches. 33” is less than the turning radius of my chair
  6. Balusters way too far apart

When trying to drive up the ramp, one of my rear wheels fell off as I tried to make the turn at the landing. The therapist gave me the property manager’s contact information. He seemed sympathetic and promised to fix the ramp, but check the dates of these emails: 


It is clear these people had no intention of fixing the ramp and were just stalling in hopes this would go away. After more than 1½ years of constant cajoling, I finally resorted to filing suit.
First came the search for a lawyer to take the case with fees contingent on a positive ruling, then a search for the shadowy owners of the building, a file-folder company called Black Rhino that only had a P.O. box address. Several months passed before the suit was ready to file, a suit my lawyer was certain would be successful. At the hearing, the defendants were represented by a team of well-heeled lawyers who argued that their clients were sympathetic but my near-accident was a one-time issue, not a pattern of discrimination. They offered to replace the missing section of handrail but nothing else.
The judge ruled in the defendant’s favor, and the ramp remains significantly out of compliance with the ADA. I still can’t make it into that building. The only way for something to get done there is for someone to get physically injured.
That was a long story to illustrate just how difficult it is today for any individual to seek remediation of even clear-cut violations. The change proposed to the ADA by the House is intended to protect businesses, while the law was intended to protect individuals. It is often impossible to find business owners to contact within 5 days. Many people in my #ALS community do not have 6 months to wait before seeking legal redress. And c’mon man, the ADA is more than 25 years old. Businesses have had plenty of time to understand and comply with the law. There is simply no plausible excuse for not knowing the law or not complying.
​Contact your senators today to oppose this bill.