Dakota Center for Independent Living

Misconception #2 – Unfunded Mandate

The next misconception is that the ADA is an “unfunded mandate.” A few business owners have muttered this phrase upon learning they have responsibilities under the ADA . I understand their point of view; it can cause an expense they did not expect. Yet, the law has existed for almost 30 years at this point. In most cases, the law pre-dates many business decisions. People should understand that the ADA is a Civil Rights law, modeled after the Civil Rights Act. In the 1960’s, I’m sure lots of people were bemused to find out they couldn’t provide separate facilities for white people and black people. These people probably moaned about the unfunded mandate as well. Now we look back on that kind of thinking with disdain.

How is it any different to exclude a person because life chose them to incur a disability? The law is not new and exists to protect a huge class of individuals from systemic discrimination. One’s obliviousness to the law should be the focus of their contempt if they believe the notion of an “unfunded mandate.” The ADA has a lot of limitation language in it, such as the phrases “readily achievable” and “reasonable.” A business does not have do anything that will cause it to fundamentally suffer or go out of business. Many physical access improvements benefit businesses in the long term. The bottom line is that ADA is a law which has required access for a very long time. It is the responsibility of a business to know what laws they must obey and plan/budget accordingly.

In the public sector, government exists to serve the people, all people, including people with disabilities. Program Access, the standard to which local governments get held, mandates serving people with disabilities using all the resources they have. Not all existing facilities need remodeling for access if other means can provide the same opportunities to people with disabilities. New buildings need to get designed with ADA compliance in mind, but not all the older stuff needs to get changed unless there is no alternative.

Submitted by Chris Murphy