Clear regulations are important so citizens can understand and comply with the law
At this point, many countries around the world have laws on the books that ban discrimination or protect the rights of people with disabilities. However, very few countries have laws that are being implemented, and one of the common reasons is the absence of practical and enforceable implementation details.
The law can use grand language to declare that people with disabilities will no longer be discriminated against and will be provided equal rights, but there must be tools for implementation such as federal, state or local regulations, enforceable standards, and forums to address disputes that show practically how to get from a barrier-filled world to the ideal of the law.
Additionally, specific timelines need to be set, for example, when modifications need to be completed or when new buildings need to become accessible.
Having very specific regulations and timelines on everything from the width of a doorway, to web accessibility, sidewalks and other infrastructure, makes compliance with the law very measurable.
When the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was passed, it contained very specific timelines for implementation. For example, every new bus had to have a lift for a wheelchair; therefore, considering the turnover rate to new buses, all buses would be wheelchair accessible within 20 years. There are also very specific regulations, guidelines and timelines on modification of old and construction of new structures.
Regulations need to provide answers to questions such as:
- What are the requirements of an “accessible” building? What does an accessible building look like? How wide are the doors and how high are the counters and sinks? How steep can the ramp be? Where should Braille signs be placed on walls and in elevators?
- On what timeline do buses have to be equipped with a lift or the capacity to “kneel”?
- When in route, how often should transit operators call out the street locations of stops?
- What are the requirements to make communication “accessible” for someone who is deaf or hard of hearing? Who is responsible to pay for a sign language interpreter, and under what conditions?
- How must schools determine the needs of students with disabilities, and when are they required to provide reasonable accommodations and policy modifications for the child’s education?
- If a person with a disability has a dispute with a government entity, a business, or an employer about reasonable accommodations, how can that dispute be resolved? What is the timeline for disputes to be filed and resolved?
- What agency or group is responsible to find answers to the questions above? Who is responsible to establish standards that become legally binding? What is the required process? How are standards changed as society changes and new technologies are discovered and applied?
These are just a tiny sample of the questions that need to be asked and answered once a law is passed.
As a strategic matter, the cross-disability community might decide to prioritize the areas that it wants regulated first. Once significant implementation details are set for a particular focus area, such as physical accessibility or transit or education, then the community can tackle another topical area.
As every person with a disability knows, details matter. If the details on implementation of the law are just left up to individual businesses, government employees, schools, and employers to determine, without additional enforceable guidance, they are likely to get it wrong.