BBI Chairman Peter Blanck quoted in the Daily Iowan: 25 years later ADA opposition remains

July 24, 2015

The Daily Iowan

by Brent Griffiths | July 22, 2015

Marca Bristo does not think the Americans with Disability Act could pass today.

Bristo is a key disability-rights advocate. She was the first person with a disability to chair the National Council on Disability — a presidential appointment. As a member of the congressional-appointed task force, she worked with then-Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and others to pass the ADA.

"Disability has always been a bipartisan issue, but as we are seeing more and more retrenchment," Bristo said. "It gives me pause that the rights we fought so hard for will be lost."

For all its acceptance and changes, the law has sparked opposition in the political realm.

These pockets of opposition are based on similar reasons for which many opposed the law in the first place, said Bob Kafka, an organizer with  an Austin, Texas, disability-rights group. They include the cost of complying with the law, fears about litigation, and a belief that changes would be better accomplished through voluntary measures than federal mandates. 

"The battle that is going on in many, many areas is to limit central-government control and push it back down to the states," Kafka said. "There are a lot of folks who are in the conservative movement who would like to dismantle the ADA."

Advocates point to Congress' consideration of a bill that would give business owners 90 days to fix any alleged violations before legal action could be taken.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., most recently pushed the legislation. Far from the first to propose what activists say is a business-friendly bill, the four-term Republican proposed the ADA Notification Act for three-straight sessions starting in 2009.

While small fights in Congress continue to crop up, a change is underway for another longtime source of opposition: the business community.

"I think leaders in the business community are starting to see what we said all along, that people with disabilities are market and that they add value to your company by diversifying the way you think," Bristo said.

Most of the continuing efforts against the ADA have occurred in such places as the Justice Department's open-comment periods for regulations.

A federal-government study conducted in part with the University of Iowa largely dismissed those arguments. The Jobs Accommodation Network, an offshoot of the Labor Department, worked with the UI's Law, Health Policy, and Disability Center from 2004 to 2006 and did subsequent work with the West Virginia School of Social Work between 2008 and 2014. Interviewers asked employers who reached out to the network about the ADA and/or how they would accommodate employees — the same respondents were called back about eight weeks later.

The three studies found that among those who provided cost information, accommodations required relatively little investment — approximately $500. A majority of business owners reported that accommodations cost nothing at all.

The findings, said Peter Blanck, who worked on the study, illustrate that opponents have nothing to stand on.

"Virtually all of these presumptions have not been borne out empirically," said Blanck, a former UI professor of law and psychology and now chairman of the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University, which focuses on civic, economic, and social participation of people with disabilities.

Even in a gridlocked Washington, D.C., skirmishes over the ADA continue.

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