I Just Lost My Civil Rights Thanks to the GOP

Yesterday, February 15, 2018 the U.S. House of Representatives voted 225-192 to gut the Americans with Disabilities Act.   The bill known as “The ADA Education and Reform Act, or H.R. 620” is designed, so its proponents argue, to prevent frivolous “drive-by lawsuits” brought by lawyers who see inaccessible businesses and want to capitalize on the problem. The bill requires those filing against businesses for violating the ADA to first give business owners 60 days to describe how they’ll fix the problem. Then they have another 120 days to implement the changes. Sounds reasonable right? But the bill is actually designed to make the problem of lawsuits go away and does not put any onus on businesses to actually make changes.

As the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities correctly notes: “H.R. 620 would create significant obstacles for people with disabilities to enforce their rights under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to access public accommodations, and would impede their ability to engage in daily activities and participate in the mainstream of society. Rather, the burden of protecting the right to access a public place is shifted to the person with the disability, who first has to be denied access; then must determine that violations of the law have occurred; then must provide the business with specific notice of which provisions of the law were violated and when; and finally, the aggrieved person with the disability must afford the business a lengthy period to correct the problem.”

The “lengthy period” is a red herring as the bill’s supporters know. Again from the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities: “We know of no other law that outlaws discrimination but permits entities to discriminate with impunity until victims experience that discrimination and educate the entities perpetrating it about their obligations not to discriminate. Such a regime is absurd, and would make people with disabilities second-class citizens.”

As of this morning my civil rights and the rights of over 50 million Americans are now in jeopardy. Like thousands in the disability community I’ve watched with growing alarm as a well organized largely Republican lead coalition both in state and federal government has moved aggressively to weaken or even eliminate the rights of the disabled. Betsy DeVos has instructed the Department of Education to look the other way when matters of equal access for students with disabilities are on the table. Congress and the Trump administration are cutting Medicate.

These are outrageous developments.

Imagine this scenario if you are not disabled. One day you decide to go to a commonplace establishment. A popular eatery or coffee joint. When you get there the owner says, “Well, I don’t like serving  people with cartoon character tee shirts.” Then he adds: “Mickey Mouse violates my decor. And I don’t have time or resources to change my decor” You’re turned away.

Do you think this analogy is fatuous? I admit it seems ludicrous. But the principle is the same. The shop owner has made a decision, rather consciously, that there’s a type of customer he doesn’t want. Rather than admit his prejudice he complains that resolving the issue will likely cost him plenty. He tells you to go away.

Imagine that you then had to explain through lengthy filings why your rights were violated. Then further imagine that the owner has almost unlimited opportunities to do nothing.

How does that grab you?

Stephen Kuusisto and HarleyABOUT: Stephen Kuusisto is the author of the memoirs Have Dog, Will Travel; Planet of the Blind (a New York Times “Notable Book of the Year”); and Eavesdropping: A Memoir of Blindness and Listening and of the poetry collections Only Bread, Only Light and Letters to Borges. A graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop and a Fulbright Scholar, he has taught at the University of Iowa, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Ohio State University. He currently teaches at Syracuse University where he holds a University Professorship in Disability Studies. He is a frequent speaker in the US and abroad. His website is StephenKuusisto.com.

Have Dog, Will Travel: A Poet’s Journey is now available for pre-order:
Barnes and Noble

Have Dog, Will Travel by Stephen Kuusisto

(Photo picturing the cover of Stephen Kuusisto’s new memoir “Have Dog, Will Travel” along with his former guide dogs Nira (top) and Corky, bottom.) Bottom photo by Marion Ettlinger 

ADA Restoration Act Clears Hurdles

While you won’t hear much about it from the national press the “ADA Restoration Act of 2007” cleared two House committees yesterday with only one opposing vote. (I’ll have more to say on that in a minute…) 

You can read all about yesterday’s proceedings and learn a good deal about the history  of the “ADARA” at the website of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD):    

It is heartening that in a time of divisive squabbling in Washington the cause of Americans with disabilities has once again “shown the way” for true bi-partisan legislation and negotiation.

Disability is universal—it transcends race, class, gender, point of origin, sexual orientation, social status, age, fortune, and happenstance. Just so: the lives and concerns of people with disabilities are in fact the most logical point of “ethos” for a largely divided country to reassert its American values of fairness and decency.

While you wouldn’t always know it from the strident qualities of my prose I am at heart an optimist about the United States. I have lived to see kids with disabilities get a real chance in public education—when, not so long ago I was one of those “mainstreamed” kids who struggled without civil rights or appropriate educational supports. Yes, we’re a decent nation. We’ve come a long way in many areas. There’s reason for  a positive outlook. And yes, there’s also reason to stay strident. Rights and liberty are inconvenient for the ruling classes and we forget this at our peril.

“Aw, c’mon, Kuusisto, you don’t really think we have a ‘ruling class” in the United States, do you? I mean, don’t you agree that we’re a ‘classless society” etc. etc.?”

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Civil Rights for People with Disabilities vs. “The Usual Suspects”

Right now, even as we drink our coffee there are powerful forces working overtime on Capitol Hill. I like to call these forces “the usual suspects” because I love the old TV series “Dragnet” and also because it takes too long to type all the acronyms of the various business and human resources lobbying groups that have assembled to fight the “ADA Restoration Act”. Oh yes, and there are prominent corporations opposed to the full inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce.

The Usual Suspects are opposed to the legislation because it would require that employers actually make reasonable accommodations for employees who have disabilities—rather than allowing said Usual Suspects to proclaim that these accommodations are wildly unreasonable. Why, By Golly! even reassigning a disabled employee to a different but equal job is an undue burden on said Usual Suspect. Enter the extraordinary, well funded, hence powerful Allied Usual Suspects who are working like junior attorneys to “mark up” the bill.

Their aim? To do to the “ADA Restoration Act” what the Supreme Court has done to the original ADA of 1990.  In decision after decision the Supreme Court has exonerated employers from having to make workplace accommodations for disabled employees. The court has used a cynical  loophole when deciding “for” employers against disabled workers: they’ve argued that Congress, in adopting the ADA has assumed the power to regulate commerce within the respective U.S. states—in effect the conservative majority on the court has asserted that Congress doesn’t have the authority to legislate civil rights for people with disabilities—and by extension, for any other group.   

What’s the final final rationale for such a position? Why by God if you give one disabled employee an accommodation well then, by God you’ll have to give all the differently abled people accommodations and heck, that would mean living up to occupational safety and human rights standards and that’s an undue burden on capitalism which, it turns out, doesn’t always see the opportunities for new markets.

So what you do is declare the authority of Congress null and void. You do it by the process of red herring-ism, you confuse the public that the issue is about disabled people in the workplace who are always a suspect group in the view of the general public—aren’t these people faking something? Trying to get an advantage with a better parking space?

If Americans don’t demand of their Congress true accountability on behalf of our nation’s disabled citizens then they are in effect giving away the last measure of our civil rights—the stakes in this argument are really that important.

Write to your Congressman or Congresswoman; take a stand. Don’t let the “usual suspects” continue to evade social responsibility by means of obfuscation.



"Permanent Link to ADA Restoration Act Blogging Round-Up, Feb 11-28 ‘08"

Who are the Political Friends of People with Disabilities?

ADA Restoration Headed to House Markup on Wednesday 
ADA Restoration Moves Forward in the House 
Disability, civil rights and employer groups are working hard to secure support for the negotiated legislated language that has been circulated on JFA and now has the support of more than 50 national and 60 state and local disability groups, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Society for Human Resource Management, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Human Resource Policy Association, and a growing list of companies, including McDonalds, General Motors and Honeywell. Lobbying on the House side for this negotiated deal began in earnest yesterday, focused on the members of the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Judiciary Committee (which also plans to mark up the bill next Wednesday).

To avoid confusion with the bill that was introduced last July, we have begun referring to the negotiated legislation as the ADA Amendments Act. In anticipation of next week’s markup, we are working to counter any efforts in either committee to attach an ADA notification requirement to the bill, a cause that was championed in prior Congresses by Representative Mark Foley of Florida and that is strongly opposed by the disability-civil rights employer coalition working to enact the ADA Amendments Act. We are also working hard to secure White House and Senate Republican support for the negotiated bill.

At this point, it looks like the bill will receive strong bipartisan support in the committee markups in
the House. We have included a list of the members of the House Education and Labor Committee and the House Judiciary Committee below.

·      Contact Members on the House Education & Labor Committee and the House Judiciary Committee between now and Wednesday morning and urge them to support the bipartisan negotiated language that will become the Chairman’s mark in both committees. The names are below.

Locate the Members’ contact information online, or call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-1904 (V) / (202) 224-3091 (TTY) and ask to be connected to their offices by name. 

·      If you haven’t already, consider having your organization "sign on" to the proposed deal language by sending an email to Anne Sommers, JFA Moderator, at aapdanne@earthlink.net. Support of the deal language means you not only approve of its language and terms, but that you also agree to defend it against all attempts by Members of Congress to amend it–unless both sides agree to the amendments.

We will continue to share the list of organizational support with Members of Congress as ADA Restoration moves forward in both the House and Senate in coming weeks. 

·      Attend the markup! The House Education and Labor Markup is scheduled for Wednesday, June 18th, at 10:00 in the Rayburn building, Room 2175. Advocates are encouraged to show their support through numbers. The accessible entrance to the building is the main entrance with the horseshoe drive off South Capitol Street.

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Iowa blind advocates (Steve being one of them) disagree over court ruling on paper money

Advocates Disagree…(click for complete article)

Updated May 20. 2008 6:04PM
By Diane Heldt
The Gazette

A federal appeals court ruling Tuesday that paper money — indistinguishable by touch — is discriminatory to blind people was hailed by some advocates as a long-awaited step forward, while others said a change is unnecessary and plays into negative stereotypes about the blind.

Blind people have adapted and often fold money to distinguish the bills, but no longer would have to rely on others to help them if the Treasury Department makes bills of different sizes or prints them with raised markings, supporters of a change said.

"What’s at issue here is the ability to identify money without other people helping you," University of Iowa English Professor Steve Kuusisto, who is blind, said. "My view is, the most accommodations possible help the most people. To be opposed to accommodations that help people is narrow."

The American Council of the Blind sued for such changes, but the government has been fighting the case for about six years. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruling could force the Treasury Department to alter money, though the ruling is subject to appeal.

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The ADA Restoration Act: What We All Need to Know

News From the Front

The attack is on and the fight is fierce. The ADA Restoration Act is currently being debated in Washington and the proposed legislation which is designed to restore the employment protections that were crafted as part of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act is now under attack from groups that want to severely limit  the kinds of work place accommodations that employees can and should receive in order to remain gainfully employed.

Because the hosts of this blog are advocates for the full employment of people with disabilities and because the high rate of unemployment among the blind and visually impaired remains at catastrophic levels we want to alert our readers to the fact that the Society for Human Resource Management (a “Management” oriented group) has issued a call to arms urging its membership to fight against this crucial disability oriented legislation. Their tactic? They tell their membership that if the ADA Restoration Act is adopted employers will have to make accommodations for people with minor headaches or disfiguring scars—that is, the SHRM has argued to its membership that under the proposed act, the definition of disability is so broad that “virtually every employee” will be disabled and will require some kind of accommodation. This is absolute nonsense and the sophistry and misrepresentation of both the ADA and the ADA Restoration Act that are utilized in the service of this disinformation is really shameful. But to paraphrase Lou Reed (who said “you can’t always trust your mother”)—“you can’t always trust human resource management”.

My friend and former colleague Scott Lissner (who is the superb ADA Coordinator for The Ohio State University) has written the following altogether cogent summary of the ADA Restoration Act and this is, in our view, the most accurate and succinct summary of the proposed legislation. Please read on.

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Our Support Needed for the ADA Restoration Act

The Road to Freedom leads us, among other places, to this list of 5 Things we can all do RIGHT NOW to support

"the ‘ADA Restoration Act’ that would restore vital
civil right protections for children and adults with physical, mental,
cognitive and developmental disabilities."

For more information, visit the ADA Restoration Act 2007 blog where you’ll find this ****ACTION ALERT!****



Cross-posted on Blog [with]tv