NFIB Legal Center Executive Director Testifies on Americans with Disabilities Act

Date: November 02, 2021

The ADA’s lack of clarity creates challenges for small businesses, Legal Center Director Karen Harned testified

In a Congressional hearing last week, NFIB Legal Center Executive Director Karen Harned testified on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and how lack of clarity in aspects of the law continue to create challenges and compliance costs for small businesses. 

Harned testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the Committee on Judiciary in a hearing titled “Oversight of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990: The Current State of Integration of People with Disabilities”.  

“[Small businesses] struggle to understand when and what structural and online changes are required due to the highly technical nature of the ADA standards as promulgated for brick-and-mortar businesses, no legal standards regarding website accessibility, and private lawsuits as the chief method for enforcing the law,” Harned told the subcommittee. 

When the ADA became law in 1990, the internet was still young and not yet an everyday commercial forum for sales transactions and business promotion, but the federal government has never adequately reconciled the ADA with changes in the economy since the ADA’s passage. Congress has never successfully passed any of the revisions to the ADA proposed over the years, nor has the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in, leading to conflicting opinions from various courts. 

This issue is compounded by the liability created by failures in ADA compliance. Owners open themselves to lawsuits, some of which are filed in a predatory manner motivated by financial gain. This means that owners who seek to avoid possibly ruinous lawsuits must attempt compliance, which is often onerous, expensive, and challenging due to vague compliance standards. 

Harned encouraged Congress to pass the ADA Education and Reform Act of 2017, a bill introduced in the previous Congress that successfully passed the House but not the Senate. “This legislation would provide small business owners time to remedy alleged Americans with Disabilities Act violations before being forced into a settlement or a legal challenge,” Harned explained. “The legislation would give well-meaning small business owners, who have no in-house compliance officers or lawyers and may not even know where to go for outside counsel, a chance to remedy an alleged ADA violation before being sued for noncompliance.” 

You can watch the complete testimony here.

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