On July 26, 1990, President George Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law. An iconic image from that time shows a group of demonstrators abandoning their wheelchairs and crawling up the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Their actions graphically showed the impact that a barrier has on a disabled person barred from full and free access to the benefits of work, play, and self-expression.
Representatives Muffy Davis, a person with paraplegia who has reduced lung function from Blaine County, and Sue Chew, who has diabetes and is from Ada County, believe that what the legislature has done to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is insufficient to keep them safe in light of their disabilities. They claimed protection under the ADA. When they filed their request for an accommodation to the way the legislature deals with the virus, they activated a well tried and tested process to determine whether their request is reasonable.
The employer (the state of Idaho) is required to consider the request and determine whether what is asked substantially changes the nature of the job. It determines through an interactive process which accommodations are reasonable. The state decided that installing air filters and plexiglass shields, and reducing the number of people allowed into hearing rooms are sufficient.
Representatives Davis and Chew disagree. They have the right to file a case in federal court requesting that the state change its policy.
Unfortunately, House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder chose to frame the issue in terms of states’ rights and judicial overreach. They state that the representatives are asking the federal courts to “infiltrate the Idaho Legislature to force the Speaker and Pro Tem to override constitutionally authorized House and Senate Rules.”
One of the remedies provided by the ADA is to allow an employee to challenge an employer’s decision for a reasonable accommodation. This is the rule of law. This is the way we are supposed to do things in this country. When we abandon the rule of law, we give over government to the mob—the whim of the moment. This case is not about federal courts “infiltrating” into state affairs, it is about the right of citizens to challenge the lack of access to full participation in their jobs as elected representatives.
Too many Americans with disabilities face attitudinal, technological, and physical barriers every day. As a person who is blind and has experienced these effects, access to an impartial third party is essential. Without this, the ADA has no teeth. The efforts of representatives Davis and Chew to exercise their civil rights and advocate against barriers to their full participation in the legislative process should be applauded. Speaker Bedke and President Pro Tem Winder should accept the process and present evidence to the reasonable nature of their solutions and, if needed, to a third party. Let the process play out. Let the ADA work as intended.
Todd DeVries is the state committeeman for the Bonneville County Central Committee.