You own a business, maybe a restaurant. You've got a lot to worry about. You have to make sure the food is safe and tastes good, that the place is clean and appealing, that workers are friendly and paid according to a hundred Labor Department and IRS rules.
On top of that, there are rules you might have no idea about. The bathroom sinks must be a specified height. So must the doorknobs and mirrors. You must have rails. And if these things aren't right -- say, if your mirror is just one inch too high -- you could be sued for thousands of dollars.
And be careful. If you fail to let a customer bring a large snake, which he calls his "service animal," into your restaurant, you could be in trouble.
All of this is because of the well-intentioned Americans With Disabilities Act, which President George H.W. Bush signed 20 years ago.
The ADA was popular with Republicans and Democrats. It passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming majorities, 377 to 28 in the House and 91 to 6 in the Senate.
What does it do? The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities, requiring businesses to provide the disabled "equal access" and to make "reasonable accommodation" for employees. Tax credits and deductions are available for special equipment (talking computers, for instance) and modifying buildings to comply with the accessibility mandate.
The ADA was supposed to help more disabled people find jobs. But did it?
Strangely, no. An MIT study found that employment of disabled men ages 21 to 58 declined after the ADA went into effect. Same for women ages 21 to 39.
How could employment among the disabled have declined?
Because the law turns "protected" people into potential lawsuits. Most ADA litigation occurs when an employee is fired, so the safest way to avoid those costs is not to hire the disabled in the first place.
Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute and author of the Overlawyered.com blog, says that the law was unnecessary. Many "hire the handicapped" programs existed before the ADA passed. Sadly, now most have been quietly discontinued, probably because of the threat of legal consequences if an employee doesn't work out.
Under the ADA, Olson notes, fairness does not mean treating disabled people the same as non-disabled people. Rather it means accommodating them. In other words, the law requires that people be treated unequally.
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