Stossel on Americans With Disabilities Act illustrating the problems of unintended consequences
I generally like John Stossel. I think he make some very commonsense points, and his heart is in the right place. I also think that he tends to write for a very unsophisticated audience and that it shows. Nevertheless, I think it’s worth pointing out his latest feature article at Reason called “Good Intentions Gone Bad.” It illustrates the point of “The Solution is the Problem.”
When signed by George H.W. Bush some 20 years ago, the ADA was the darling of the political class. It received very little opposition and sailed through both houses; this despite some glaring issues, including raised costs, increased likelihood of lawsuits, and of course, the ever-favorite unintended consequences. Interestingly enough, the most egregious unintended consequence was the fact that the law did exactly the opposite of what it was supposed to do:
The ADA was supposed to help more disabled people find jobs. But did it?
Strangely, no. An MIT study found that employment of disabled men ages 21 to 58 declined after the ADA went into effect. Same for women ages 21 to 39.
How could employment among the disabled have declined?
Because the law turns “protected” people into potential lawsuits. Most ADA litigation occurs when an employee is fired, so the safest way to avoid those costs is not to hire the disabled in the first place.
Very Stosselly writing, but a very strong point nonetheless. Another point that Stossel makes is one that I happen to have some experience with:
On top of that, there are rules you might have no idea about. The bathroom sinks must be a specified height. So must the doorknobs and mirrors. You must have rails. And if these things aren’t right—say, if your mirror is just one inch too high—you could be sued for thousands of dollars.
And since ADA modification requirements are triggered by renovation, the law could actually discourage businesses from making needed renovations as a way of avoiding the expense.
I used to work in the finance area of a relatively small brick and mortar chain retailer, and we had a store that was a generally poor performer, especially given the area it was in. Part of the problem was the fact that it was one of our first stores, and by this time it was rather run-down. In an effort to bring the revenue numbers up to where we felt they should be for the area, we made plans to renovate the store, using upgrades to the inside of the building but without modifying the outer support walls (which we couldn’t do anyway, since the store was physically attached to other neighboring tenants’ stores).
Unfortunately, we found that renovating triggered the ADA strictures on bathroom stall widths, and our bathroom was roughly six inches too short to accomodate the new stall without either tearing out a wall or tearing out all of our plumbing. In the end, the renovations weren’t done, and although, as far as I know, it hasn’t happened yet, the store will probably be shut down.
All for six inches and a piece of ill-thought out legislation. Sad, but not unexpected.
Update: I have learned that Stossel will be taking on this topic on his TV show tonight. If you get that cable channel and are inclined to hear more about “lawsuit bounty hunters,” etc., you should check it out.