Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The ADA -- good thing or bad?

I've always had a troubled relationship with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). On the bad side, it creates disproportionate expenses on businesses and communities to accommodate a very small fraction of the population. I've known thriving business that simply closed their doors because, although no one with a wheelchair had ever even attempted to use their services, they were told that they had to install a $250,000 elevator, or some other such thing. In addition, because "Disabilities" is defined so broadly, the whole thing is just an invitation to fraud. Thus, the statute states in relevant part that a disability is

(A) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of the major life activities of such individual; (B) a record of such an impairment; or (C) being regarded as having such an impairment.
I mean, think of that first one: something that "substantially limits a major life activity." I've heard of employees claiming that they get depressed if they don't have windows, forcing their (small) employers to spend thousands of dollars to rejigger offices or install windows to ensure that a part time file clerk can see outside. It's a boondoggle. On the plus side, I learned after I had children that the wheelchair access ramps, which cities and businesses installed all over America at enormous expense, ostensibly for the small population of wheelchair users, are in fact a great boon to mothers with strollers. That was a nice law of unintended consequences. Overall, while I'm enormously sympathetic to the handicapped (something that I hope would go without saying for all people), I've always had my doubts about passing on this huge cost to benefit a small number of people. It's not fair that they shouldn't have access to everything but, hey, life's not fair. (Nobody needs to tell me, of course, that I'll dramatically change my tune should something happen to me or my family. But, thank God, nothing has happened, and I can only look at it from a fairly emotion-free costs/benefits analysis.) And it was with this in mind that I read this article:
A federal agency plans to order the town of Ross to make a popular foot path accessible to people with disabilities or face 'appropriate action' by the U.S. Justice Department. The four-foot-wide dirt path along scenic Shady Lane fails to meet provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a letter from the Federal Highway Administration to Richard Skaff, a Mill Valley resident who filed a complaint with the Justice Department. 'The Town of Ross is found to be in violation of ADA requirements relative to the issues raised in your complaint,' said the Feb. 8 letter to Skaff from Frederick D. Isler, associate administrator for civil rights for the highway administration, which oversees ADA compliance. The agency 'will request that the Town take immediate steps to come into compliance with the ADA,' Isler wrote. 'It will also be advised that pursuant to regulation failure to achieve compliance will result in this matter being forwarded' to the Justice Department.
Ross is a wealthy community, and can probably afford the change, although I imagine it will drastically decrease the charm of this Shady Lane. The Town, however, could also say that it's hasn't budgeted for changes demanded, and doesn't intend to do so. In that case, it will simply have to close the Lane down. And that will illustrate one of the problems I've always had with ADA. It gives the handicapped, or the government, or people asserting rights that the actual handicapped in the community don't even care about, the right to say, if you don't let me play, than nobody gets to play. And that bothers me.