The United States of America often claims to be the land where equal opportunity and the right to live free from discrimination is a priority for our government. Although there are arguably many problems with this statement, most would agree that civil rights for women and minorities have come a long way within the past 60 years. Certainly, room for improvement remains, and other sectors of the population are in need of attention.
George Lane, a paraplegic, refused to crawl or be carried up the steps of the Polk County Courthouse and was arrested for failing to show up to court. Understandably, he and others in his situation find crawling up a flight of stairs humiliating.
Both these people are plaintiffs in the case Tennessee vs. George Lane and Beverly Jones in which Lane hopes to receive $100,000 from the state. However, the issue of disability access was already resolved when the same courthouse Lane was to attend spent $108,000 to accommodate those with disabilities by installing an elevator.
Even after the passage of the American’s with Disabilities Act in 1990, which requires access to public services for those with disabilities, many have failed to comply with its regulations.
While many disabled persons have used this act to correct the building codes and stop discriminatory practices in the workplace, others have used it as an opportunity to collect large sums of money. Instead of simply claiming the state should just fix the problem at hand by complying with building codes, for example, some plaintiffs go further to request some extra funds at the expense of the rest of us.
Although unfortunate, this act has often been used by lawyers and others who hope to receive large settlements, whether or not the original wrong has been corrected. While the spirit of the ADA was to provide equal opportunity and public accommodations for everyone, it has often been used to collect money either from the government (our tax dollars) or businesses, including small businesses that may not be able to afford it.
Many times, cases are settled out of court, which pays damages to the plaintiff but sometimes fails to correct the original problem.
Protestors organized a ‘crawl’ up the courthouse steps on Jan. 13 to show their support for Lane and Jones as the Supreme Courts decide whether it is constitutional, according to the 11th Amendment, for citizens to sue states. Recent court decisions have cut back on the power of the ADA, claiming Congress had no authority to override states’ sovereign immunity when writing the act.
As the election gets closer, talk of disability rights have briefly come up, but not nearly as much as other issues such as the war or the economy. In fact, it is doubtful whether the candidates will seriously consider aggressive action, although talk of clarifying and rewriting the ADA has been mentioned.
As it stands now, the act should be limited, because it is not being used entirely to bring about equality.
For example, some have tried to sue under the protection of the ADA, like the mechanic with high blood pressure in Murphy v. United Parcel Service, who would certainly not be considered disabled by most people. Also, it fails to specify exactly who can be protected. Sometimes those with chronic pain are not protected under the act, because it’s difficult to measure pain, while others with less debilitating conditions are free to sue businesses.
In fact, unemployment among disabled people has actually dropped severely after the passage of the ADA, because of the large amounts of money that businesses are expected to invest in order to avoid lawsuits. As expected, the largest drop occurred among small to medium businesses, which are more wary of hiring due to lack of money.
Undoubtedly, there should be a guarantee of protection for disabled citizens from discrimination. However, the language of this important legislation enacted by Congress is vague, giving the Supreme Court the opportunity to water it down.
Instead of using extra money to pay off plaintiffs, states should be responsible for providing disability access to all their facilities and upholding other provisions of the ADA. Therefore, the act should be rewritten to clarify its intent and prevent others from taking advantage of an act that was meant to assist those who have historically been in need of it.
Maya Debbaneh is a second year political science major.
Filed Under: Opinion