Price of Nice: Assumptions, Reality, and Cost-benefit Analysis of ADA Mandates

Person wearing business attire walks up office steps with a white cane

In his opinion piece for the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Libertarian political commentator and professor Barry Fagin accused the ADA of trying to achieve a public good through private means, unnecessarily (and unconstitutionally) burdening private citizens with the cost of implementation and adherence.

A Look at the Cost

High cost is a key sticking point in enforcing the ADA, even for those committed to non-discrimination based on disability. Look at the example of an $18,000 price tag for intercity bus companies to equip even one bus with a wheelchair lift.

However, the other way to look at this is that a bus should not be allowed to be sold if there is no lift. Then it would not be viewed as an add-on item.

ADA Benefits Everyone

Regardless, any attempt at reducing the ADA specifically (and Disability Rights generally) to “being nice,” a mandated act of charity by the many towards an importunate few—willfully ignores two inescapable realities.

Firstly, disability is not a fixed class populated by a few “unfortunates.” Disability is one of the largest, most influx of the legislatively-protected classes, the easiest to fall into as we age, are born, or live minute-to-minute, pitting our human bodies against the vastness of the universe.

Secondly, disability-related accommodations/modifications rarely restrict their positive impact on any specific population; they tend to benefit unanticipated groups. The company that grudgingly widens the aisles in franchise stores under pressure from wheelchair users in due course finds that its popularity with larger parties and mothers with strollers has increased, to its profit; the municipality that installs ramps for the mobility-disabled, even in the most out-of-the-way buildings has the thanks of deliverymen and emergency personnel alike, as these workers find an easier landscape to navigate in the course of their arduous tasks. Food delivery apps, once derided as a first-world concern of people with disabilities, catapults to grave relevance when a pandemic changes the very definition of normal. In essence, the accommodations and modifications dismissed as “being nice” to people with disabilities are, in fact, the gateway to the very in-vogue principle of universal design.

Additionally, it is speculated that increased taxpaying and consumer purchasing power by individuals with disabilities with equal access to all areas of society would offset the costs associated with that increased access.

Increasing Accessibility

Despite universal design benefiting the general population, progress has been slow in ensuring accessibility since signing the Americans with Disabilities Act in July 1990. We, as people who are blind or low vision, can advocate for further accessibility. We need to request accessible pedestrian signals at lighted intersections we cross to get to and from work, school, or the bank. We need to shop at stores with accessible websites. We can do our part to increase accessibility for ourselves, others who are blind or low vision, and the general population.