As millions of disabled vets return home from 'Gulf War II,' corporate lobbyists and their legislative henchmen have declared war against the disabled. Suddenly, it's OK for legislators to portray disabled citizens who seek equal access to education, employment, programs, and services as whores, parasites, or leaches. Calls to minimize society's investments in the contributions of disabled citizens are everywhere. Citing the cost of trivial compliance measures, some pro-corporate legislators recently called for legislation scaling back the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments of 2008 (ADAAA). The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has repeatedly rejected the call from disability advocates for public input on new regulations and instead held secret meetings this week to revise its guidelines. This is not pro-tax payer tort reform legislators are proposing -- it is a uniform policy of state-sponsored retaliation, exclusion, and extortion of the disabled which is out of touch with the average disabled person's every day struggles.
A prime example of discrimination-based legislation would be California State Senator Bob Dutton's bill entitled "Special Access: Liability" which would operationally shift the cost burden of corporate compliance with the ADAAA onto the disabled citizen seeking access, then bureaucratically and financially starve them out of a remedy. Should the disabled citizen successfully file suit, the corporation could never be sued again. The elected judge hearing the case can then brand the disabled person a "vexatious litigant," and the disabled person's name will then be placed in the public registry to ensure that they can never assert their access rights in a court again without the judge's written permission. How will Senator Dutton's legislation do anything except ensure the exclusion of the disabled, indemnify corporations from accountability, and drum up campaign contributions?
To really understand why the ADAAA is necessary, one needs to understand how Senator Dutton's proposed legislation will harm the disabled. Let's be clear that Senator Dutton's proposed reforms will exclude millions of disabled veterans, especially those who suffer from invisible impairments such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI.) The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a staggering 29.1 percent unemployment rate for young veterans under 25 who served in Gulf War II. These statistics do not take into account the 908,000 veterans who were still waiting for the Veterans Administration to decide their disability claims as of October 2011.
Born nearly blind in one eye, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) is a person with a disability who keenly understands the every day discrimination and exclusion persons with disabilities face because he too has fought for equal access. During Senate hearings in 2008, Veteran and Sen. Patrick Leahy explained that:
We passed the ADA in recognition that the bedrock principles of human dignity and equal opportunity require all Americans to be judged on their individual merits and not on the prejudices of others... Despite these significant advances, recent decisions from the Supreme Court and lower courts attempt to erode the ADA's protections and threaten to turn back the clock on our progress.
As Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Leahy expressed his specific concerns that the courts had become too pro-corporation:
I am particularly disturbed by rulings that have narrowed the ADA in ways we never intended... As a consequence, millions of Americans who suffer discrimination are now excluded from ADA protection... The message sent by these rulings is as unfortunate as it is undeniable: The courts no longer consider certain persons ''disabled enough'' to be protected. That means an employer could fire or refuse to hire a qualified worker on the basis of his or her disability, and defend that action in court on the grounds that the worker was not ''disabled enough'' to be protected under law.
Sen. Leahy went on to state his specific concerns for those who courageously serve sacrifice for our country through military service:
I am particularly concerned that these rulings will undermine the rights of thousands of veterans with disabilities who, upon returning from the war, will enter the civilian workforce to support their families. Many of these veterans have disabilities, including post-traumatic stress syndrome, that may be controlled with medication. If any of them suffer job discrimination, we must make sure they will have a remedy.
Here we are nearly four years later, the corporations still have voluntarily elected not to comply with certain ADAAA reforms, and Sen. Dutton has proposed pro-corporate legal reforms which covertly deny disabled persons remedy under the law. Sen. Dutton's argument also fails because it assumes that the courthouse itself is ADAAA compliant, or that the disabled litigant will not need accommodations for his impairment in order to access to the court's programs and services. Justice Department reports show that many courts and law offices voluntarily refuse to comply with the ADAAA, but only become compliant when sued for damages.
Since the disabled fought this battle and won the right to equal access in 1990, then AGAIN in 2008, it is time we ask ourselves how Dutton's bill will benefit the disabled, and whether disabled citizens truly have "equal access" if, in order to have equal access to noncompliant corporations, they must spend years litigating their fundamental right to have equal access to due process at the court hearings itself? Should disabled litigants be forced to elect between the loss of wealth and opportunities, or alternatively, going broke engaging in excessive litigation? Isn't that just another way of starving the little guy's interests out of court on account of their disability?
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