Picture this: it’s late in the afternoon, you’re tired from a long day at work and feeling a little hungry. You’ve already made the trip to the grocery store to top off on provisions for the week, and out of the corner of your eye you see a candy bar. You know it’s probably not the best thing to eat for your health, but it just looks too good to pass up. You stoop down, take a glance over your shoulder to ward off that last fleeting sense of guilt, reach down and take your prize. Lucky for you the toddler who you just stole the candy from didn’t make much of a fuss. You pocket the bar and continue on your way. In your car, you eat it mindlessly while checking on the latest Insta-story and forget you ever had it as soon as it’s gone. You forget about the child you stole candy from for the greater good that is to satisfy your need for instant gratification.
Even though taking advantage of accessibility law can be as easy as taking candy from a baby, it doesn’t mean you are self-justified to do so.
I want to make it clear that I in no way believe any of the readers of the RMADAC blog are the type of people who would do this type of thing. I am just sharing my own personal desire to have this type of abuse of the law to become a such social faux-pas that people who may be tempted to abuse accessibility laws would choose not to. It’s easy to steal candy from a baby, but we have social expectations that keep the majority of society from even having that thought in the first place.
It’s also easy for a person to feel entitled to take their pet everywhere they go. Recently, I heard on the radio that the Millennial generation regards their pets as part of their nuclear family. It’s just so easy to take Fiddo with you and say he’s a service animal. After all, he looks “just like people” when he’s sitting in the child seat of a shopping cart. He’ll get so many likes on Facebook!
All jokes aside, taking advantage of accessibility law is not a victimless crime. When Fiddo starts licking the woman looking for a ripe avocado, she looks at Fido and the “service animal” vest you bought on Amazon and will instantly carry a negative bias from then on for people with service animals. When this sort of thing happens all the time around the country, it makes a lot of people regard service animals and their owners as a nuisance and disrespectful of others. With enough negative emotion surrounding an issue, and a general ignorance for what accessibility laws are actually intended for, real changes can occur that can ultimately limit the ability for a person living with a real disability from being able to fully take part in society, which is the point of accessibility law.
I choose to use service animals to prove my point as it’s fairly easy to create a narrative, but service animals are not the only aspect of accessibility laws that are being abused. There are some people who choose to file upwards of thousands of lawsuits under the ADA as a way to take advantage of the way the legal system works, often pressuring a business to provide a cash settlement to drop the case before it even gets to a court proceeding. This practice is not how the law was intended to be implemented or how most people use the ADA. This practice isn’t so common that social pressure would prevent it from happening, but education on how a person’s rights under the ADA are actually exercised, as well as the rights and responsibilities of covered entity would go a long way to prevent these “perversions” of the law from changing the law itself. There have been bills presented to congress that effectively limit people with disabilities ability to exercise their civil rights, just because of the few people who abuse the system. We shouldn’t allow a few bad eggs to spoil the entire carton. If you are affected by the ADA, perhaps a letter to your member of congress to explaining how important the law is to you is a good place to start.
Not everyone is a business owner, but most of us know someone who owns a small business at some point. My only call to action is to be open with people who own small businesses and ask them if they really know they rights and responsibilities under the ADA. It will be a very different answer for every business, as the ADA is not a “cookie-cutter” law. The RMADAC can assist a covered entity to understand where their rights and responsibilities lie, but only if they contact us. We don’t investigate, report, or do anything that would dissuade a business from reaching out to us. We also can’t resolve issues that may be occurring. We do have an intimate knowledge of how the ADA works and can explain how different parts of the law may apply in different circumstances. We can’t solve the problems of the world, but we are here to help spread information, which is the best tool anyone can possess as knowledge is power.