Checks and Balances
Replacing old buses with accessible buses will avoid a single great expense and the local bus system will become increasingly accessible over time
A strong and sustainable law should contain checks and balances to show that disability-related accommodations and modifications are reasonable and not unlimited. A proposed law will more quickly pass, achieve public support, and be effectively implemented if it is perceived to be a fair law, not only for the minority group whose rights are recognized, but for all parts of society. People with disabilities have a right to reasonable accommodations (RA) and barrier removal, but those rights can be balanced in a number of ways.
This is important because if the law itself establishes possible limits on RA, it helps to silence critics of the law who may try to raise fears about how the law is too expensive, puts people out of business, and gives people with disabilities too many advantages. Moreover, if the law is clear about how a limit works, then people with disabilities are likely to be more confident about raising their right to accommodations. Checks and balances allow people with disabilities to participate as contributing community members and break down perceived notions that they are a burden to society.
Scenario: A person using a wheelchair wants to buy clothing at a small family-owned store but there are five steps at the entrance and not enough space to install a ramp. Under the ADA, the business owner would not be required to make the store wheelchair accessible if they can prove that the cost of construction would be beyond their financial means, or an “undue financial burden” on the business. However, the business owner would still be required to provide RA in an alternative way, such as using a bell or intercom system at the street level, so customers maintain their right to service.
There are many factors that can be considered in establishing limits on reasonable accommodation:
- Different limits can be established for different entities depending on the resources of the affected entity. For example, a government agency or large profitable business likely has more financial capacity to make changes for accessibility than a small family-owned business.
- Different limits can be considered depending on the kind of accommodation that is being requested. For example, it may make sense to have some kind of limit on how much a doctor would have to do to make their second floor office in an old building accessible. However, that does not mean the that there should be a similar limit on the doctor’s obligation to take extra time for a patient with a developmental disability or provide Braille information to the blind parents of a child who is a patient.
- Limits can be applied that relate to public safety and ensuring that employees hold jobs that they are qualified to do. For example, the right of a job applicant or employee to seek accommodations can be limited if an employer can prove that the applicant cannot perform the essential functions of a job even with reasonable accommodations, or if the employer can prove that an employee cannot perform a job without presenting a danger to himself or others. The assertion that someone with a disability cannot perform a job or is a safety risk must be based on real facts and not just stereotypes. Someone who is deaf or hard of hearing may be limited in their capacity as a sound engineer because it is not possible for them to experience the full aesthetics of recorded sound, but full hearing is not necessarily required to be a safe truck driver with good routines of mirror and sight-checks.
- Different limits and standards for new structures/purchases versus old buildings and existing systems can act as an overall check and balance on barrier removal. For example, a city or a company might be required to purchase only accessible buses as it replaces its vehicles, but not required to immediately replace its fleet with accessible vehicles. This means that the city or company will not have to undertake a single great expensive change, but the bus system or fleet will become increasingly accessible over time.