Margaret Jakobson-Johnson is advocacy director for Disability Rights California.

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Another View: Delaying lawsuits isn't fair to the disabled

Published: Sunday, May. 20, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 2E
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 20, 2012 - 9:39 am

Margaret Jakobson-Johnson, advocacy director for Disability Rights California, is responding to the May 8 editorial "Find balance on disabled access, excess litigation." The editorial said, "Senate Bill 1186 would ban 'demand for money' letters and would require attorneys to send a notice letter listing any alleged construction-related violations at least 30 days before filing suit. That would give businesses a chance to fix the problem before someone could run up the meter on violations."

There's a historic adage that says justice delayed is justice denied. The same can be said about equality. When civil rights come with a waiting period for some but not others; well, that's not equal.

And, yet, that is the consequence of a bill now before the Legislature. Proponents of Senate Bill 1186 say it's about eliminating frivolous lawsuits involving the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act.

Make no mistake – there are unscrupulous lawyers in the world. Some of them make money filing ADA lawsuits.

But there is a way to stop unnecessary lawsuits without rolling back civil rights protections: Work to ensure more businesses comply with the law.

Passed in 1990, the ADA mandates that people with disabilities have equal access to buildings, stores, restrooms and other public spaces. For people with disabilities, ADA means freedom to work, go to school, and take part in civic and economic life.

But SB 1186 says that 22 years after the ADA mandated access, businesses can't be held accountable without a 30-day notice of a lawsuit.

That's like hanging out a sign on the first day of school, saying, "Sorry we aren't integrated yet, but let us know 30 days in advance if you intend to sue for your right to come in."

SB 1186 singles out people with disabilities, alone among all groups with civil rights protections, to jump through legal hoops before being able to enforce their civil rights. What other community is told to wait for rights they fought long and hard to earn?

Imposing additional procedural requirements on people with disabilities conflicts with California's proud tradition of civil rights protection. With SB 1186, California – the birthplace of the disability rights movement – would reverse decades of progress made so people with disabilities move from the margins to the mainstream of community life.

Many businesses already comply with the landmark law, recognizing that the nearly one in five Americans living with a disability are a vital part of our communities and the economy.

Rather than helping to bring more businesses up to basic standards that enable full access for our community, SB 1186 discourages businesses from complying with the law, sending a clear message that they need comply only after they're caught.

With our population aging, California must remove barriers, not create more. Let's work together to build a barrier-free California, rather than introduce legislation that creates more obstacles.

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