The language of the Americans with Disabilities Act is both vague and extremely complicated, causing huge headaches for employers, landlords, and public accommodations. Today’s New York Times brings word that the Justice Department is demanding that apartment buildings in New York City constructed since 1991 be redesigned, at enormous expense, to accommodate small numbers of disabled people. The irony is that the building owners already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to ensure compliance with New York City’s own disabilities-discrimination law, Local Law 58, which was viewed by many as being more exacting than the ADA. Now, 100,000 apartments may need to be redesigned in New York City alone.
This is not the only negative effect of the ADA. As an article in the New York Times pointed out, “when the A.D.A. was enacted in 1992, it led to a sharp drop in the employment of disabled workers. How could this be? Employers, concerned that they wouldn’t be able to discipline or fire disabled workers who happened to be incompetent, apparently avoided hiring them in the first place.” Yet the ADA was sold to the public as a way of increasing the employment of disabled people. Congress has learned nothing from that: Congress is on the verge of passing legislation that would make the ADA even broader, and an even bigger nightmare for employers. Never mind that the definition of disability is already so broad that I qualify as “disabled,” despite being perfectly able-bodied, because I suffer from insomnia, and perhaps also merely because I am shy.
The ADA is now being used to sue online retailers over their web sites, which are hard for visually-impaired people to read. If such lawsuits prevail, small retailers may stop selling online, making it harder for people of modest means to bargain-hunt on the web. Much of what my wife buys for our baby daughter, she buys from small retailers on the web.