Disability advocates gathered at the Arizona State Capitol in opposition to a recently introduced Senate Bill which requires individuals who encounter ADA access barriers to provide notice to offending businesses before they could move to corrective action. The bill, SB1198, was introduced by Senator John Kavanagh (R-LD23). Kavanagh introduced a similar but less aggressive bill in the last session, which was defeated.
Sarah Kader, staff attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law addressed an enthusiastic crowd which chanted “Access equals civil rights!”
“We are very disappointed that Senator Kavanagh has yet again introduced a bill that treats people with disabilities differently than other protected classes. We are here today to share our collective voice opposing SB1198. This bill treats people with disabilities as second class citizens by delaying their right to enforce their civil rights and denying them damages for access violations they encounter.”
“It is also important to remember, that public accommodations include many businesses and services open to the public. Yes, they include hotels and restaurants and movie theaters. But they also include homeless shelters, food banks, medical facilities, social service agencies, professional offices, and hospitals.”
“Consider a person with a mobility impairment who uses a wheelchair and is in need of emergency surgery at a hospital. What if this person encounters accessibility issues, such as an inaccessible operating table or scale?” Kader laid out her organization’s opposition to SB1198.
“This violation could result in an anesthesiologist being unable to accurately determine the amount of anesthesia necessary for the individual. Should this person now need to write a letter and wait 60 days in order to go to court to seek help? What if this person does not have that kind of time because of the health emergency? If SB1198 is passed, individuals with disabilities would be exposed to great risk and harm and we cannot let that happen.”
Three Senators spoke in opposition to the bill, Senator Andrea Delessandro (D-LD2) reminded the crowd to share their personal stories of access challenges with their representatives and encouraged them to contact Senator Nancy Barto (R-LD15), Vice Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee where the bill will be heard, to ask Barto to refuse to hear the bill.
Senate Minority Leader, Katie Hobbs (D-LD24) told the crowd: “We have a long, long way to go to make Arizona accessible to everyone. SB1198 is absolutely a step in the wrong direction. It takes away our ability to hold businesses accountable to do the right thing in terms of accessibility.”
Senator Kate Brophy-McGee (R-LD28) said, “SB1198 is not a good bill. The proposed solution creates unnecessary barriers for the disabled community and diminishes your civil rights. It punishes you – and it doesn’t address the problem of frivolous law suits. Any remedy taken must take into account your civil rights and be refined to target the bad actors who are using your issue of disability to advance personal agendas.”
Sherri Collins, Executive Director of the Arizona Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing reminded those in attendance that there are more than 1.1 million people in the state of Arizona have a hearing loss. She asked Senator Kavanagh to work with the community to preserve the civil rights of people with disabilities.
Phil Pangrazio, President and CEO of Ability360 said rather succinctly, “This bill’s a stinker!”
Pangrazio encouraged the crowd to oppose the bill as it created an incentive for businesses not to comply with the 27 year old Americans with Disabilities Act and instead take a ‘wait and see approach’. “This bill is harmful to people with disabilities.”
Several community members also spoke movingly in opposition to the bill and related access issues that they face in the community.
David, a veteran from Tucson who uses a wheelchair, spoke about the negative impact of SB1198 on returning veterans with disabilities. “This affects veterans, especially when they are going to transition. They will have extra obstacles that will make hard for them to transition to an independent lifestyle with their disabilities.”
Three women, only identified as “the Moms” brought many to tears and drew the crowd’s largest applause as they spoke. “We’re here today on behalf our children who have disabilities. We’re just starting this journey with our kids. So many people have gone and done such amazing things in the community and we don’t want to see it go backwards. We want to make sure our kids are treated like the citizens they are and not second class.”