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Businesses prepare for ADA upgrades

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Kai Ryssdal: The 18-year-old Americans With Disabilities Act is set to get an update. Tomorrow, the Justice Department is expected to propose new rules to give the disabled better access to everything from stores to courtrooms to swimming pools.

Even the government admits though that that's going to come at some cost and our Washington bureau chief John Dimsdale found a difference of opinion as to whether the benefits outweigh 'em.


John Dimsdale: The new rules require courts to make witness stands wheelchair accessible. Stadiums, theaters and auditoriums would have to install more seats for the physically disabled. Hotels would have to lower light switches.

The Justice Department estimates the tab for all this at $23 billion, but Randy Johnson at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sees an even more costly legal nightmare.

Randy Johnson: Particularly in Florida and California, the trial bar has made a huge amount of money and a large business out of so-called drive-by lawsuits where they go into small businesses and they find a little technical area of compliance and say "Hey, you're out of compliance. You better pay my attorneys' fees or we're going to file a complaint."

Advocates for the disabled say businesses should welcome the more specific guidelines for what's expected of them. Curt Decker is the executive director of the National Disability Rights Network.

Curt Decker: We certainly believe integrating people with disabilities into the community to become employees and to be customers of stores is a beneficial thing not only for people with disabilities but for businesses who want to sell their products.

Final rules are expected this fall. Simultaneously, Congress is considering legislation to reverse court decisions that have limited eligibility for the Americans with Disabilities Act. Decker says returning Iraqi war veterans and aging baby boomers are focusing attention on the need for disability rights.

Decker: It's the one minority group you can become a member of rather quickly.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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