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Public Statements

Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. LANGEVIN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to language included in the FY13 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill that strips the Justice Department's authority to implement accessibility standards for swimming pools under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was an amendment offered and discussed earlier this evening.

As cochair of the bipartisan Disabilities Caucus and as a person who has lived with a disability for over 30 years, I am very troubled by any attempt to weaken the ADA. However, I am even more surprised to see such language included in an appropriations bill used to fund the Federal Government.

In 2010, the Department of Justice issued regulations requiring that public and commercial pools be made accessible by either a ramp or a fixed pool lift. This rule was intended to break down one of many barriers to recreational activities that people with disabilities face. I understand that some businesses, such as hotels and motels, believe that meeting these requirements would impose an undue cost burden, so I would like to take a moment to dispel some of the misunderstandings that have formed around this issue.

The Justice Department's regulation only requires existing pool facilities to satisfy the accessibility standards if it is ``readily achievable,'' which simply means that it is ``easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.'' This has been the governing legal principle of the ADA since its passage 22 years ago. It ensures that businesses are given the flexibility to determine whether they have the resources to make accessibility improvements rather than requiring a one-size-fits-all approach; and contrary to some misconceptions, individual parties cannot sue to get money damages as a result of noncompliance.

It is also worth pointing out that this is not a last-minute regulation rushed through by any one administration. The United States Access Board first adopted pool access standards in 2002 and incorporated those standards into its ADA Accessibility Guidelines in 2004. This rule applies those same standards to the 2010 regulation at issue, and businesses have had 18 months to prepare and give feedback on this rule. In fact, they were recently granted another 2-month extension to delay implementation until May 21, 2012.

I recognize the challenges facing many small businesses, so I feel it is important that regulations do not impose an undue burden on them. However, if this language to strip the DOJ's authority is approved, a burden will be borne by people with disabilities everywhere--whether they are trying to access commercial pools or public pools like those run at State and local recreation facilities.

Swimming is a recreational activity that provides numerous social, physical, and medically therapeutic benefits; and it has played a crucial role in the rehabilitation, overall health and increased quality of life for millions of people with disabilities, including our injured military servicemembers and disabled veterans who participate in adaptive sports and recreational swimming as a means of fitness, inclusion, and empowerment. Many veterans service organizations and disability rights groups have expressed as much in letters opposing this language, including Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Jewish War Veterans, VetsFirst, in addition to the National Council on Independent Living, American University Centers on Disabilities, and the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities, which encompasses many additional disability, health and veterans groups.

Mr. Chairman, this language sets a dangerous precedent for civil rights enforcement, and it would mark the first time that Congress has weakened the enforcement of the ADA. So I ask my colleagues to oppose this language in any final bill that is conferred with the Senate. Once you pull that thread, you risk unraveling the protections of the most important civil rights bill for people with disabilities as well as that which binds us all together in a higher calling of equal rights for all.


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