The National Council on Independent Living is alarmed and appalled by the December 4th segment on 60 Minutes addressing the Americans with Disabilities Act and "drive-by lawsuits." The segment, hosted by Anderson Cooper, was one-sided, rife with inaccuracies, and glaringly dismissive of the disability community.
Contact Anderson Cooper and 60 Minutes and ask that they air another segment that gives equal airtime to the struggle of the millions of Americans with disabilities who still lack basic access to our communities.
- Contact 60 Minutes using their online contact form
- Contact 60 Minutes on Twitter: @60Minutes and @AndersonCooper
- Contact 60 Minutes on Facebook
Instead of addressing the fact that 26 years after the passage of the ADA there are still so many businesses not complying with the law, Anderson Cooper and 60 Minutes chose to focus on the largely overblown issue of "drive-by lawsuits." To be clear, NCIL condemns the actions of those attorneys who are abusing the ADA and making profits off of the civil rights of people with disabilities. While small in number, the actions of these attorneys are harmful to the nearly 57 million Americans with disabilities, and the repercussions of their actions risk increasing the access barriers that we already face. That is unacceptable, and we cannot stand for it.
That said, NCIL supports the right of people with disabilities who have faced discrimination to file complaints and lawsuits. Twenty-six years after the passage of the ADA, people with disabilities are still discriminated against by businesses that either don't take our needs into account or openly exclude us. With no oversight mechanism, we have seen businesses around the country wait to comply with the law until they receive a complaint, meaning that not only is the onus on the disability community to 'monitor' compliance, but also that until we complain we are excluded from their places of business. We are appalled that Anderson Cooper used his platform to shine a light on an undeniably small problem while paying no attention to the access issues millions of us face every day in our own communities.
On top of that, the segment was full of inaccuracies. First, Anderson Cooper stated that most states and the District of Columbia allow for monetary damages for accessibility violations under the ADA. This is false. The reality is that monetary damages are based on state laws in only a handful of states, and several of these states - including California where some examples in the segment were based - have recently passed legislation disallowing damages in addition to making it harder to file a claim under the ADA in the first place. Second, the segment presented compliance with the ADA as overly burdensome and bordering on unnecessary. In reality, the ADA is just one of a multitude of laws, requirements, and codes that businesses have to comply with, and implying that it is unnecessary is wrong and offensive. The segment implied that ADA compliance should only be necessary if people with disabilities patronize a business, while the fact of the matter is the people with disabilities often don't patronize businesses precisely because they aren't accessible to us! People with disabilities are full-fledged members of our communities, and the intent of the ADA was to ensure that all public spaces are accessible to all people.
Lastly, NCIL has grave concerns with the fact that Anderson Cooper did not include any disability activists in the segment. The only people with disabilities shown in the segment were portrayed as pawns being used by the unethical attorneys, and this is incredibly offensive. Twenty-six years ago, the ADA was passed because of the hard work and dedication of disabled activists all over the country. Now, 26 years later, we continue to fight for our civil and human rights to be recognized. The 60 Minutes segment's portrayal of people with disabilities was patronizing and inaccurate, and we demand better.
We strongly urge Anderson Cooper and 60 Minutes to air another segment that gives equal airtime to the struggle of the millions of Americans with disabilities who still lack basic access to our communities.