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ADA Education and Reform Act Threatens Equity of Access

person in wheelchair holding sign saying disability rights equal civil rights
image CC-BY-NC by the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights

Research libraries are committed to making information resources as broadly accessible as possible, regardless of users’ abilities or disabilities. The ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 620) would severely hamper equitable and timely access, which are core values of the library profession. On behalf of its members, the Association of Research Libraries strongly opposes H.R. 620.

The US House of Representatives is expected to vote on the ADA Education and Reform Act on Thursday, February 15, 2018. This bill, if passed, would roll back the civil rights of 57 million Americans with disabilities. The legislation would require a person who encounters an access barrier to send a written notice to the business owner and allow 60 days for an acknowledgement plus another 120 days for the business to make progress on rectifying the access barrier.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has served citizens of all abilities well for over 27 years. Passed with bipartisan support in 1990, the ADA has eliminated or lowered many barriers that denied people with disabilities educational, economic, and employment opportunities. Many accommodations that benefit people with disabilities, such as curb cuts and user-friendly websites, also benefit others. The ADA Education and Reform Act would reverse many of the advances brought about by the ADA.

“Federal regulations ensuring compliance with universal design and accessibility standards benefit all,” said Ed Van Gemert, chair of the ARL Advocacy and Public Policy Committee and vice provost for libraries and university librarian at University of Wisconsin–Madison. “Organizations, businesses, and universities broaden their reach and their impact by providing a greater number of people equal access to their services, information resources, and products.”

Furthermore, the ADA Education and Reform Act will especially harm veterans who have suffered injuries fighting in support of the United States. Research libraries are especially mindful of veterans’ needs as increasing numbers of veterans are enrolling in colleges and universities.

“Disability rights are civil rights,” said Gerald Beasley, chair of the ARL Diversity and Inclusion Committee and the Carl A. Kroch university librarian at Cornell University. “The Americans with Disabilities Act was intended to eliminate discrimination against individuals with disabilities. The United States should continue to strive for an inclusive society in which all people are valued and have access to housing, education, health care, and jobs.”

Those who argue in favor of the ADA Education and Reform Act assert that unscrupulous lawyers are abusing the ADA by unfairly targeting small businesses. However, there is no evidence of large numbers of spurious complaints, and passage of H.R. 620 would discourage legitimate complaints due to the wrongful actions of a few.

“The ADA Education and Reform Act would negate much of the progress spurred by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Mary Ann Mavrinac, president of ARL and vice provost and Andrew H. and Janet Dayton Neilly dean of the University of Rochester Libraries. “The ADA protects the most vulnerable among us by ensuring equitable access to essential services, including library services among many others. Weakening the ADA would be a travesty.”

About the Association of Research Libraries

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) is a nonprofit organization of 125 research libraries in the US and Canada. ARL’s mission is to influence the changing environment of scholarly communication and the public policies that affect research libraries and the diverse communities they serve. ARL pursues this mission by advancing the goals of its member research libraries, providing leadership in public and information policy to the scholarly and higher education communities, fostering the exchange of ideas and expertise, facilitating the emergence of new roles for research libraries, and shaping a future environment that leverages its interests with those of allied organizations. ARL is on the web at ARL.org.

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