Handicapped access entrance pad mounted to a wall

The House of Representatives passed a bill weakening Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), according to Washington Post reports. Disability rights advocates and Democratic leaders say the bill removes incentives for businesses to comply with the law.

“We know of no other law that outlaws discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity until victims experience that discrimination and educate the entities perpetrating it about their obligations not to discriminate,” said a September letter from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities signed by more than 200 disability rights groups.

Proponents say the bill is aimed at curbing unscrupulous lawyers who seek profit by threatening businesses with litigation without actually seeking to improve access for the disabled.

H.R. 620, the "ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017," restructures the enforcement mechanism for the ADA. The means of enforcement have always been unusual, according to an article on the Pacific Standard website.

Most regulations that affect commerce are enforced by government agencies. But while there is a small division in the Department of Justice (DOJ) doing some oversight, the ADA generally depends on private citizens bringing complaints through damages-free lawsuits (though with legal fees attached) in order to command compliance in commercial spaces.

So, unlike health codes, labor standards or other safety features most enforcement starts with a personal lawsuit. This feature of ADA enforcement has allowed some lawyers to allegedly send disabled clients into businesses to detect accessibility failures, report back and collect a fee from the lawyer.

H.R. 620 demands that the federal government offer businesses more education about the ADA, while not providing additional funding to implement that education. The new bill also means a person who encounters an accessibility issue would have to give a written, technical notification to the business, wait 60 days for that notification to be acknowledged and then wait 120 more days for "substantial progress" to be made in resolving the issue, according to the Pacific Standard article.

If, after 180 days, there hasn't been substantial progress, the disabled person who first encountered the accessibility obstacle can then sue, but won't be able to collect damages.