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  • Writer's pictureMeg O'Connell

Why We Need ADA Police.

Updated: Apr 10

A woman sits at the bottom of a large staircase. There is not visible options for wheelchair accessibility. She looks frustrated.
Not Accessible

Imagine you and your family are headed to the movies to check out the latest release. You park, and head to the elevator that will take you to the lobby, and subsequently the second floor where the movie will be shown, only to find the elevator is out of order.

The mom of the family is a wheelchair user and has no other options to get into the theatre. They call the theatre to speak to the manager and ask for assistance. He simply apologizes, “it is the only elevator, and it won’t be fixed until next week, sorry.”

So, what happens next? 

Well, what usually happens for people with disabilities (and mom’s), she tells her family it is fine, go ahead without her. She will run errands and be back to pick everyone up after the movie. They reluctantly agree.

The mom is clearly disappointed. But this is not the first time, or even the 100th time, and certainly it won’t be the last time access has been denied. It unfortunately, happens almost daily – whether an elevator is broken, a ramp is blocked, or a two-inch step in a restaurant doorway prevents entry.

The ADA will turn 34 this year, and for more than 30 years the mandate of the law has been access and inclusion of people with disabilities. But, most people with disabilities still face barriers, challenges, and even purposeful exclusion. It includes access to accessible housing, people with disabilities face double the unemployment of those without disabilities, and one of the worst offenses, accessibility features not maintained.

Unfortunately, the burden of ADA enforcement falls onto the 61 million Americans with disabilities, their advocates, and activists.  Here is what typically happens. Someone will send a note, make a call, or file a complaint about lack of access. Often complaints go ignored, or a series of responses that often include, “we can’t fix it, it is too expensive”, “you’re the only person that has ever complained”, “ you will find an accessible entrance behind the building, or use the facility miles from your home…etc. The excuses for non-compliance are vast and typically organizations do not act until a lawsuit is filed. 

Almost never is the response, “Thanks for bringing this to our attention, we will have this fixed within 10 business days.” Which quite frankly should be the response.

So, I believe it is time to propose the addition of a special unit within the Department of Justice that would act as the “ADA Police ”, Or for every state to have an ADA Access Office that would oversee accessibility needs and concerns throughout the state.

The “ADA Police or Access Office” would have the following functions and responsibilities:

  1. Review & Monitor Compliance: Review ADA compliance of cities, counties, building codes, public works departments regarding the ADA and its regulations, such as providing cities with accessible sidewalks, entrances and pathways without barriers, reasonable accommodations, and effective communication.

  2. Assist with Rectifying Access Issues: The ADA Access Office would help cities, states, local governments, and businesses to find solutions for access issues. They would keep local and national best practices to help entities address and rectify any problems.

  3. Investigate Cases: As a neutral party educated in ADA requirements the office would be involved in investigating cases and making recommendations to rectify and prosecute in cases of neglect, discrimination, abuse, or misconduct.

  4. Provide Training and Technical Assistance to agencies on how to interact with people with disabilities in a respectful, safe, and proactive manner, and how to prevent and resolve accessibility issues and concerns.

  5. Educate and inform the public, especially people with disabilities and their families, about their rights and responsibilities under the ADA, and how to report and seek solutions for any violations or grievances.

This new entity would not only ensure the ADA is fully implemented and respected. It may even reduce the number of ADA lawsuits because there would be an intervening body to help make access happen in a more informed and proactive way.

The creation of a better way to enforce the ADA would be a vital step towards fulfilling the vision and promise of the ADA and making our society more accessible for everyone.


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