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EDITORIAL: The latest abuse of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Orange County Register - 11/21/2018

Nov. 21--Yes, it is also abused.

But since it was signed by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act has opened up a vast new world to people who use wheelchairs or are otherwise differently abled.

That world is the world others take for granted: the upstairs, the downstairs, the public bathrooms.

Now, in retrospect, putting up handrails and laying down ramps in that physical world, while often costly, was relatively easy for businesses and property owners to understand how to do.

But almost 30 years ago, at the dawn of the internet, policy makers couldn't have begun to understand the complications the ADA might mean for business in cyberspace.

Now the law is being interpreted to mean that commercial enterprises with websites need to make them fully usable by the hearing and visually impaired -- even by people who find it difficult to use a computer mouse. That means words on a website must be specially coded so that transcriptions are provided for the deaf, and video must have descriptions embedded in it for the blind. This might cost a small business with a simple site a few thousand dollars, and a large one with a complex site hundreds of thousands.

Enter the lawyers. As the Los Angeles Times reported this month, of about 10,000 ADA lawsuits filed in the first six months of this year, 1,053 of them alleged website accessibility violations, a number that is projected to rise to 2,000 by year's end, up 90 percent from 2017.

Businesses say they can handle the cost of the upgrades to ensure access. What rightly ticks them off is the payments for "damages," much of which go to lawyers. They demand huge payouts, and the law lets them do so without first giving the business owner a chance to fix the websites. California mandates an unusually high minimum dollar amount for damages of $4,000 plus attorney's fees for each ADA violation. One Orange County firm has filed 335 ADA cases in the past year, including three dozen for a visually impaired Montana woman.

This isn't about access -- it's simple extortion. The new Legislature and new governor should amend state law to give businesses a chance to comply rather than writing checks to lawyers.

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(c)2018 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Visit The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.) at www.ocregister.com

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