ADA Celebration, Protest and Dirty Harry
26, 2000 marks the 10th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act
(ADA), a landmark disability civil rights bill intended to improve the lives of
disabled Americans. Reactions and planned ADA 2000 events are mixed as to what
the law has accomplished so far.
Washington D.C., events are part of a national "Spirit of ADA" Torch
Relay organized by the American Association of People with Disabilities, which
covered 24 U.S. cities. The torch began its journey June 11 in Houston entering
the capital on July 25th. The theme of the events, “Renew the Pledge,” was
adopted by organizations in an effort “to coalesce support for the goals of
the ADA by renewing America's commitment to equality of opportunity, full
participation and economic self-sufficiency for all disabled persons.” Faced
with both progress and set backs in the decade since the Act was passed,
organizers say they wished to revive the same spirit of full access to
individuals with disabilities that led Congress to pass the ADA in 1990.
Pennsylvania comes Rolling Justice 2000, an epic relay that will culminate in
Philadelphia on July 29, 2000. Kicked off on July 5, 2000, hundreds of disabled
persons have been rolling across the state gathering support from their
communities for affordable, accessible transportation for all who have
disabilities, no matter where they live, rural, suburban, or urban. This relay
will include over thirty Pennsylvania towns, villages and cities by the time it
Sacramento, CA, the local activists are too disenchanted for celebration. They
say “CELEBRATE THE ADA? HA! LET'S NOT CELEBRATE! LET'S PROTEST!
YEARS IS LONG ENOUGH! How long must we wait for cities like Sacramento to comply
with the ADA and install curb ramps, remove unsafe curb ramps and make the
sidewalks accessible to all citizens? We waited 8 years for Sacramento to comply
and when they didn't, even after numerous phone calls and letters, a group of us
sued. Now, two years later after many settlement conferences, the city has
finally responded and said they aren't going to comply with the ADA!
BRING A ROLL OF TOILET PAPER! THESE WILL BE PRESENTED TO THE CITY COUNCIL TO
REMIND THEM THAT THE ADA IS NOT JUST A PIECE OF PAPER! TO ASK THEM TO PLEASE
STOP USING THE ADA FOR TOILET PAPER.”
sentiment seemed to prevail on most of the disability list serves to which I
subscribe. Some of the complaints include the fact that disabled persons seeking
the assistance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the federal
courts are loosing in 92 percent of the cases. Few, if any, local governments
are in compliance with Title II of the ADA; curb cuts have not been constructed,
courthouses are not accessible, government programs are not accessible. The
majority of places of public accommodations are not in compliance with the Title
III of the ADA. Advocates are experiencing difficulty in getting new buildings
constructed without architectural barriers let alone get existing buildings to
remove architectural barriers.
Shotz, an advocate in Florida writes “the reaction of the business community
to our efforts to enforce our civil rights is to have a bill sponsored before
the U.S. House of Representatives that would make it almost impossible for us to
exercise our civil rights through federal litigation. Now there is an attempt to
bypass the rules of Congress and to sneak this bill through. Is this something
is referring to H.R.3590 the ADA Notification Act also known as the “Dirty
Harry” bill because Hollywood producer/actor Clint Eastwood testified on its
behalf for Rep. Foley (R-Fl) the sponsor of the bill. The Notification Act would
amend Title III of the ADA to require, as a precondition to filing a lawsuit
involving a place of public accommodation or a commercial facility, that the
plaintiff provide notice of the alleged violation by registered mail or in
person and that 90 days be provided to correct those violations.
sounds “reasonable” until one gets the skinny on what has really been
happening in these ADA cases. Let's take Eastwood's situation for example.
Eastwood owns a posh Mission Ranch Hotel in Carmel, California, which was
remodeled to the tune of several million dollars but does not provide an
accessible restroom in the main area. He was sued for violating the ADA -- and
he is fighting mad because of it.
Wall Street Journal reported “These "sleazebag lawyers," the veteran
actor says, his voice constricting, messed with the wrong guy when they
"frivolously" sued him and hundreds of other small-business owners for
failing to comply quickly enough with the Americans with Disabilities Act.”
(May 9, 2000)
fact, the story is one of complete fairness and patience on the part of the
plaintiff. The person who is suing Mr. Eastwood did write Eastwood a letter.
After failing to get a response she wrote another letter and sent it by
Certified U.S. Mail. It came back marked "Refused.” Then she sought help
from a California attorney to fight for her rights using the ADA.
Eastwood appeared on Hardball with Congressman Foley to complain about how trial
lawyers are "extorting" businesses with unwarranted lawsuits. Did Rep.
Foley check out the details of the lawsuit against Mr. Eastwood before eagerly
enlisting him in his Notification campaign? If he had he might have found out
that Eastwood not only received prior notice but that he had segregated the
disabled from the nondisabled bathrooms at his resort in a way that denigrates
disabled persons. Activists Maggie Dee and Larry Buchalter of Northern
California wrote to Rep. Foley “[there is one restroom] for the disabled
"cripples." The "cripples" have to go out an Exit door, into
the elements. This door was held open with a piece of wire...no door handle; the
other restroom is inside for his non-disabled clientele...separate but equal?
Ummm, I wonder how the black community would feel if they were asked to use this
outdoor passageway to their bathroom while the Caucasian clientele used the
Eastwood had been advised by his previous insurance company and attorneys to
settle, remodel and put it behind him but he would not and now his legal fees
are reported to be over $500,000. Much of these fees have been run up by his own
lawyers trying unsuccessfully to get the case dismissed. Twice judges refused to
dismiss the case because the case is not “frivolous,” it has merit.
seems that Eastwood is gunning for the ADA in bad faith and that Congressman
Foley, a Republican, is acting in his own interests by sponsoring such a bill.
Supporters of this “Notification Act” include an array of GOP backers, the
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Business, the National
Restaurant Association and the International Council of Shopping Centers.
a result of Foley's bill and Eastwood's public relations campaign for it,
coupled with the failure of the press to get to the meat of the matter
(Hardball's Chris Matthews did not do the research to counter what Eastwood
said on his show), the public is infected with the notion that “drive-by”
disability lawsuits are running businesses out of business. Poor mistreated
multi-millionaire Clint Eastwood!
in the trenches know first hand that businesses are aware that there is an ADA.
Businesses know that they are required to comply but often they figure they will
wait till they have a complaint. Or, like Dirty Harry, they may ignore a letter
of warning and refuse to make required modifications. Then they may be surprised
at what a complaint costs. One advocate writes “I have tried to educate
businesses about it. They simply don't WANT to hear it. The majority I talk to
have a MAKE ME attitude about it.”
lister writes “there has been very little voluntary compliance in my area and
what access there is has come as a result of lawsuits and with the intervention
by the DOJ. The list of civil rights violators is endless and therefore I for
one will not be celebrating. The only thing I will celebrate is the upcoming
filing of another lawsuit.....”
majority of those testifying for Foley's bill HAD received notice. On face
that would tell us that the Notification Act isn't about “Notification” to
businesses all. What would it do? The Clinton administration says it would
discourage voluntary compliance. Not only does the bill create technical
barriers to filing suit, it gives businesses an incentive and an excuse to not
make their premises accessible until a warning letter arrives. Foley's
amendment would also thwart disabled persons' access to the federal courts by
discouraging the already too few lawyers practicing ADA law from taking access
violation cases. It would do absolutely nothing to further the ADA goal of
making the nation more accessible to disabled persons. Should, for example, a
deaf patient be forced to wait 90 days to have an interpreter provided at a
proposed amendment is a stealth strategy for opening up the ADA again in
congress -- a way to chip away at the ADA and eventually kill it. This 10th
Anniversary of the ADA, let's make something happen that will be cause for
celebrating -- by putting heavy pressure on congress to kill Foley's bill