July marks the 29th anniversary of the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law for people disabilities that many fought hard for. It is time for state and local lawmakers to join forces with members of the disability rights community for the intent of this law to become fully realized. It's time for state and local lawmakers to understand that every issue has a disability component to it. Whether the issue is about immigration, criminal justice reform, hunger, environment, disaster response, business, government administration, employment, education, transportation, human services, etc. State and local lawmakers should have a game plan to further inclusion and justice for people with disabilities. That means, embracing the intent of the ADA when it comes to enacting state and local laws.
The ADA is one of America's most comprehensive pieces of civil rights legislation. It prohibits discrimination based on disability and ensures that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers to participate in the mainstream of American society. Yet, its enforcement mechanisms leave a lot to be desired. It's up to the federal government to enforce the ADA. State and local jurisdictions generally don't have the resources to handle ADA complaints at their level. A further complication is that ADA enforcement is dependent on different federal agencies. It depends on what the complaint is about and which Title of the ADA the complaint falls under. This means that enforcing compliance with ADA standards, whether structural or programmatic, can be a tedious and lengthy process. This can make ensuring compliance with ADA standards a difficult proposition.
One example of how state and local laws could complement the ADA is related to accessible parking. This would include laws about who is and is not allowed to use accessible parking spaces, along with how violations are enforced. The ADA doesn’t cover these aspects. The ADA only sets minimum standards for public and private entities - like the number of accessible parking spaces required. And, enforcement of these requirements falls to the federal Department of Justice. This is where the importance of state and local laws comes into play.
If state and local jurisdictions adopted accessible parking standards to match (or exceed) the standards of the ADA, infractions could be enforced at that level. This would simplify and expedite enforcement of accessibility standards, which are complaint driven.
If state and local laws don't specify who is and is not allowed to park in an accessible parking space, then these spaces would be open for anyone to park in. So, those in need of accessible spaces may have a tougher time finding a parking space that accommodates their disability. Also, if the state or local law/ordinance doesn't specify the make up of an accessible parking space, local enforcement of design standards often cannot occur.
There are many more examples of how state and local laws can work together with the ADA. Local and state lawmakers should start working towards passing legislation and ordinances that complement the ADA. They should take into consideration that people with disabilities make up a large part of their constituencies. The ADA was not passed to place an unfunded mandate on state and local governments or on private businesses. The ADA was passed so that people with disabilities have an equal opportunity to pursue goals in employment, education, transportation, consumerism, and accessing state and local government services.
I have seen state or local lawmakers kill legislation that could make state or local laws provide the same level of protections as the ADA. This may be because of beliefs that the ADA is burdensome, or the requirements already exist in federal law so there is no need to duplicate or complement them. 29 years have passed since this comprehensive civil rights law for people with disabilities was signed. It's time for local and state lawmakers to embrace the ADA!
Lawmakers should use the ADA as a tool to ensure that state and local communities are as inclusive and accessible for people with disabilities as possible. Equal opportunity for people with disabilities can only be realized when elected officials come together with the disability community. I encourage partnering to enact laws, policies, and ordinances that are inclusive to all Americans. All people, including people with disabilities, have an important, active, and meaningful role to play.
As we approach the 29th anniversary of the ADA, I encourage you to include disability in your long list of issues, reach out to disability organizations, attend disability related events, and show people with disabilities that you are willing to fight for our right to realize the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act!
This blog post was written by RMADAC Brand Ambassador, Travis Hoffman, disability advocate with Summit Independent Living.