Rand Paul is clueless about the Americans with Disabilities Act

by CynthiaYockey on May 23, 2010

I noticed just now at Memeorandum that it wasn’t enough for Rand Paul to fail to clarify the objections the libertarian philosophy has regarding the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for Rachel Maddow. No, no, no. He was in a hole and kept digging. To wit, in an interview on NPR on Wednesday, May 19, he denounced the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 for imposing costly burdens on businesses THAT THE ADA DOES NOT IMPOSE — the quote is taken from a Yahoo News story from Memeorandum):

I think if you have a two-story office and you hire someone who’s handicapped, it might be reasonable to let him have an office on the first floor rather than the government saying you have to have a $100,000 elevator. And I think when you get to solutions like that, the more local the better, and the more common sense the decisions are, rather than having a federal government make those decisions.

Then he repeated these false claims the next day on CNN.

Bearing in mind that I spent 19 of the 20 years I was with my late life partner pushing her wheelchair, the antipathy of conservatives towards the Americans with Disabilities Act DRIVES. ME. CRAZY!!!!!

Yahoo News did an extremely thorough and competent job of exposing Rand Paul’s false assertions about the ADA and providing the truth about its requirements. The only important point that Yahoo News missed in its story is that it is difficult to retrofit a building to meet access standards — they really have to be designed into the building from the beginning. And frankly, that’s WHY the federal government is legitimately involved because it sets the access standards for the whole country — the Americans with Disabilities Act Access Guidelines (ADAAG) and before that the Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards (UFAS). It would be crazy to require each state or local jurisdiction to have to figure out how to invent this wheel. This is NOT an area of life where local solutions and small government are better.

I recommend reading the entire Yahoo News story, especially for its explanation of the requirements of the ADA and its limiting phrases, “readily achievable,” “undue burden” and “reasonable accommodation.” Here is the part the provides the truth regarding Rand Paul’s false claims about the ADA:

The ADA imposes a slightly different burden on employers, forcing them to make workspaces accessible unless it imposes an “undue hardship.” But again, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the ADA’s employment provisions, installing an elevator is generally considered an undue hardship under the law. “We are not aware of any case where a court required any business — let alone a small business — to install an elevator as a reasonable accommodation for an employee,” said EEOC spokesperson Justine Lisser.

Robert Dinerstein, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law and an expert on the ADA, concurs: “I’m not aware of any cases where an elevator had to be installed. There’s certainly no leading case out there that says that.” Indeed, courts have found just the opposite. In Association for Disabled Americans v. Concorde Gaming, a U.S. District Court judge in Florida ruled that a gambling boat didn’t have to build a $200,000 elevator to allow wheelchair-bound patrons access to the upper floors: “Installation of an elevator is, therefore, not readily achievable and Plaintiffs are entitled to no such relief.”

Not even the ADA’s most vocal opponents, who presumably would be busy collecting tales detailing the law’s onerous requirements, could point to a single case where an employer was forced to install an elevator to accommodate an employee under the ADA. “I don’t have a bunch of anecdotes,” said the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk, who has written of the ADA’s “burdensome accommodation process.” We called the libertarian Cato Institute to ask if anyone there could corroborate Paul’s stories, and were told, “We don’t have anyone.” We eventually contacted Walter Olson, a Cato scholar who decried the legislation in his book “The Excuse Factory: How Employment Law Is Paralyzing the American Workplace,” on our own. “I did a little Google searching and didn’t immediately come up with one,” he said, “but I think you’ll find them.” When we told him that the EEOC and Justice Department couldn’t, Olson pointed out that the ADA does force property owners to bring buildings into compliance with the law when they make renovations — in other words, some building owners may have to install elevators if they are spending enough money on other repairs to render the additional cost less of an “undue burden.” But those requirements would be triggered by substantial renovations, not by the hiring of an employee with a disability, as Paul claimed.

The people who are using the ADA as an example of big government regulations run wild need to spend a month in a wheelchair. Or a lifetime.

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Peter May 23, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Seeing as how I have been pushing a wheelchair for a couple of months, with no end in sight, and twenty-odd years ago my Linda Lou spent a year on crutches with a wrecked knee, I’m paying much attention to handicap access. Worse, of course, is that I’m carrying her purse all the time and it doesn’t match my boots.

Still, Rand Paul got caught trying to answer a question about something he doesn’t know much about. So he talked about the awful rumors instead of having the sense to say something along the lines of “You know, I haven’t studied that issue, when I am a Senator, before I have to deal with it, I’ll have a staffer study it and brief me.” Too bad.

Cynthia Yockey May 23, 2010 at 4:44 pm


I hope Linda Lou is better soon. Did your doctor suggest any supplements that might aid her healing, like vitamin D and calcium, both of which are needed for bone health?

Regarding the ADA, the irrational, frothing and completely unfounded hatred that libertarians and conservatives have toward this law just flabbergasts me. It has given our economy more workers and more businesses and more customers. It has reshaped vastly for the better how our environment in commercial and government-owned settings is designed and built. What mother pushing a stroller doesn’t give thanks for the curb cuts required for wheelchair users? Who is harmed by requiring doorways to be 32 inches wide, measured from the face of the door to the door jamb?

Frankly, I think we need legislation to require single family homes to be designed to be more easily adapted for wheelchair users. Baby Boomers have no idea the speed at which they are heading toward a wall, in terms of lack of housing that can be adapted to a mobility-impaired person, which would allow them to stay in their homes as they age. Well — I just remembered — you got a taste of that when you had to build a wheelchair ramp before Linda Lou could come home from the hospital after breaking her leg.


Dr. sipmac May 23, 2010 at 4:31 pm


libertarianism is way too perfect to be applied in real life. Sometimes it looks like plain old social darwinism. As a matter of fact, ideologies are way to perfect to be applied as a panacea. That is why we have blue dogs or log cabin republicans (note both groups seem to be neglected by their peers). Nothing is pure bussiness (and profit), nor you can spend yourself the way out of a reccession. And I think of something I heard from – egad – Michael Moore: Gay rights are the last frontier of human rights. If I can learn something so crystal clear from someone that is deeply wrong in so many issues…

Conceded, Mr. Paul is in the hole, and he keeps digging furiously in the name of pure libertarianism.

BTW, it is fair to say I’m not perfect, either. I identify myself as a conservative now, but I remember all the years of liberalism-statism I’ve spent, and I regret those years the same way I regret all the years I’ve spent smoking. I wish I’ve never put a cigarette on my mouth for the first time, but I have to recognize I grew up in a liberal-friendly environment, and until a few years ago it made perfect sense for me to smoke and be a liberal. I realized I should take responsibility for my own actions, so that way I gave up smoking and became a conservative.

I’m not perfect, and most of the people I perceive as my ideological allies aren’t either. I wish Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter were always right, but they aren’t. We should be always aware of this. Mr. Paul does not realize it yet for himself.
.-= Dr. sipmac´s last blog ..Qué es perder el sentido de las proporciones? Qué es no tener los pies sobre la tierra? =-.

Cynthia Yockey May 23, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Dr. sipmac,

Yes, libertarianism does seem to rely on a perfect world and have social darwinism as its process. It took me a couple of days to realize something after reading Rand Paul’s objections to the 1964 Civil Rights Act — he says competition would have resolved prejudice against blacks because if a lunch counter refused to serve them, then a competitor that did could open up across the street and get more business. However, that doesn’t take another aspect of human nature into account: the people who didn’t want integrated lunch counters would throw rocks through their windows and force them out of business no matter how many customers they had. Libertarianism seems comfortable with the latter scenario in the name of private property rights. I am not.


I R A Darth Aggie May 24, 2010 at 12:43 pm

I’m carrying her purse all the time and it doesn’t match my boots.

Sounds like you need a new pair of boots.

Retriever May 26, 2010 at 11:37 am

Fight the good fight, Cynthia. I have many kind and compassionate libertarian friends but the ideology tends towards devil take the hindmost. As a caregiver for several generations of severely mentally ill relatives and the mother of a son on the autism spectrum, I am deeply grateful for ADA. Private charity and individual sympathy and understanding sometimes falter in the face of bewildering or dark behavior. Most of us hate having to beg for help. To struggle with a chronic illness (or, as you well know from caring so faithfully for your beloved) is enough of a burden without having to fight for every single accomodation one needs. The key is “reasonable”. I am primarily responsible for my sick or disabled loved ones, but the law and the Feds must prevent prejudiced behavior and give reasonable access to education, job supports toward self sufficiency.

As the Great Reader’s obnoxious Special Olympics remarks sadly show, the disabled and mentally ill are one of the last groups people feel free to mock, stereotype and deride in our society.

As I have written before, I admire your devoted care for your partner all those years. My father likewise cared for my mother (married 52 years) during the last dozen years of her life when she was crippled and needed constant care at home, so I know of what you had to be and give. True love.
.-= Retriever´s last blog ..From Emily’s Garden =-.

Cynthia Yockey May 26, 2010 at 3:37 pm


Thank you for sharing your story and for your support.

The Americans with Disabilities Act is EXACTLY the kind of law that conservatives ought to support with every fiber of their being. It is the essence of conservatism to design buildings and public spaces that allow wheelchair users to function independently so they can work, shop and play. Instead they went crazy because regulations had to be worked out and promulgated. Huh? The crazy thing is to believe this would have happened without the coercion of the government and that a patchwork of local solutions and no solutions would support the principles of private property and individual liberty more. I have to go up against the likes of Jonah Goldberg over this — since his book, Liberal Fascism, crashed and burned for me when he used the ADA as an example of regulations gone wild — so I will have research the points I want to make. I have other things I have to do first. But I’ll get there, since this issue is not going away and the credential I have earned to give me authority to address the topic is rare because it is so difficult to obtain.


Jan June 15, 2010 at 9:55 am

I just found this blog and very much appreciate it.

Main problem with the Yahoo article: I do not know if EEOC or DOJ’s “de jure” lines up with local enforcement’s “de facto.” I do know that in farming regulation, there is often a large discrepancy. And in those cases, farmers often find it more cost-effective to give up a complaint than to take it to court. So it’s hard to find evidence from the court system. So, the Yahoo story’s statistics and quotes leave me skeptical….though I would certainly like to learn more.

Yet I do have an Americans with Disabilities bone to pick –and it is not primarily with Rand Paul. My mom was diagnosed with MS 20 years ago. Cynthia, your beautiful photos wrenched my heart. What galls me is not a spirited debate on the ADA. What galls me is Michelle Obama’s constant references to her father with MS — most recently, in a high school commencement speech last week at Anacostia (Virginia) HS. This woman could do SO much good to raise awareness about MS, to help families cope, and to raise money for treatments and research. Instead, she does nothing to help people with MS. She only mentions it in reference to herself and her own desires. It breaks my heart. Because I recognize my mother in the stories she tells — how her father felt so much pain in buttoning his shirt, yet how he still went to work every day. Yet one is left with the impression that those stories are entirely self-serving to her. His sacrifices and struggles take second place to HER narrative. Why will she not take up the cause to comfort and aid chronic disease sufferers and their loved ones — as all other First Ladies have done, with their own causes, in that esteemed position? In all honesty, and with all due respect, Michelle Obama’s cavalier attitude toward her father with MS bothers me far more profoundly than Rand Paul’s views on the ADA.

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