Americans with disabilities are supposed to have equal rights. They are protected by federal law from discrimination in areas such as employment, public accommodations, transportation and government services. The landmark legislation establishing these rights and the framework to procure and ensure them, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), celebrated its 24th anniversary on Saturday. As a writer and a person with a disability, I was curious how or if this occasion would be marked.
so on Monday, I Googled “ADA 24th anniversary.” The first thing that was an actual news media story was John Michaelson’s Saturday article for Iowa’s KMAland “Iowa Recognizes Advancements with 24th Anniversary of ADA.” It was the 6th item in the Google Results. A couple other articles from Iowa and one from St. Louis followed before the .orgs started showing up again.
ADA: the Most Important Thing You Need to Know
Becky Harker, executive director of the Iowa Developmental Disabilities Council, summed it up in Michaelson’s article, “… one of the issues is that the ADA is complaint-driven. So, until somebody complains, there’s really no enforcement. And I don’t think that people with disabilities understand that, always.”
Harker needn’t have been so specific. I don’t think the public at large gets that either. If someone ploughs into your car on the highway, the police show up and investigate the incident. The government, not the victim, takes charge of the crime and the administration of justice. It may just be a fender-bender, and you may not be hurt beyond a shake-up, but if the police find the cause of the accident to be a drunk driver, they don’t ask you if you want to press charges. The person involved you in an accident, but they were a menace to anyone on the road.
For people with disabilities, however, incidents of discrimination that may have far-reaching implications for their lives do not so easily fall into the government’s lap. And, no, there’s no one to call to get the process started and no one to take down your account of what happened. People with disabilities must fight for these rights pretty much all by themselves.
Dealing with ADA Violations
If a person with a service dog, for instance, is barred from entering or asked to leave a restaurant or motel, and if that person is unable to convince the employee of the truth of the law, the person often has to simply leave. Even local police cannot force the business to honor the ADA. The justice process doesn’t start until the victim files a complaint with the Department of Justice. At that point the wheels of justice are set in motion.
And, that happens in a timely manner, right? Because, the DOJ has this great system, a partnership with the business community whereby disputes are resolved quickly and fairly through mediation. Well, maybe not quite.
Access Denied: Guide Dog User Tossed from Motel Room
I had an incident a year ago. My husband, my guide dog and I were thrown out of a motel room we had already occupied. The reason given by the motel employee and his building manager was that they believed it was OK under the law to restrict service dogs to rooms set aside for pets, and we were in a room in the “no pets” section. Do you think it should be OK to put the guide dogs in with the pets? Well, if you do, you can talk to your elected representatives and try to get it changed.
Meanwhile, that’s not how “equal access” is being interpreted by the courts. Such restriction subjects people with disabilities to the ill-mannered, unkempt beasts that all too often pass for pets. It’s dangerous, but more importantly – at least to the law – is that it does not represent equal access. Worrying about whether a future occupant of the room may be allergic to the service dog isn’t a valid reason for segregating service dogs either.
OK, so we file a complaint. Then, what? First you get an acknowledgment that DOJ received your complaint and advising you that it may take 90 days till you hear back from them, because of the high volume of complaints. So, you wait. I waited nine months. Then, I wrote, called and cc’d my US Senator. Shortly thereafter, we received a letter asking us to agree to mediation. We did, and the motel owner did as well. Then, mediation started with one snafu after another.
It’s been over 14 months since the incident, and nothing is resolved. As time permits, I hope to do a post or two on some of the many problems with the mediation process, but suffice it to say for the moment that “justice delayed is justice denied.”