How the ADA Ends Up Handicapping Everyone

The American’s with Disabilities Act of 1990, ADA for short, was passed to prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. To achieve this, the ADA expands on the anti-discrimination criteria provided by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This includes forcing employers to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ for disabled employees, as well as forcing businesses to to provide ‘public accommodations’ for disabled patrons.

Though public accommodation laws are usually well-intentioned, they are fundamentally antithetical to libertarianism.  Not only that, sometimes the practical issues that arise from ADA lawsuits become downright ridiculous.

Enter this story from the University of California, Berkeley. The University was generously offering more than 20,000 free video lectures, podcasts and other media on their website for everyone to study and enjoy. These videos are now going away as a result of an anti-discrimination complaint brought by two employees of Gallaudet University, a school for the deaf. The reason: the videos do not provide closed captioning and, therefore, are not accessible for everyone.

The Department of Justice agreed with Gallaudet and found UC Berkeley in violation of the ADA. Instead of spending the money to provide the required access, the University is limiting the content to students and staff only, beginning March 15.

As unfortunate as that is, I can’t say I’m surprised. Government regulations rarely result in the consequences that were originally intended. In fact, most regulations end up hurting the very people they are designed to help. Take, for example, licensing laws that restrict low income entrepreneurs from starting businesses, or taxes that target predominately low-income goods like cigarettes.

This problem here is that UC Berkeley is providing their own content for free online. They are under no obligation to provide these videos for free and they shouldn’t have to spend one cent to alter their content to be more widely accessible. End of story.

When problems exist in society, we should not have State thugs bullying people and institutions into submission through excessive regulations and legal threats. We need instead to allow voluntary, free market solutions to be put into practice. For instance, maybe Gallaudet could have worked in partnership with UC Berkeley to provide transcription services, or perhaps any number of third parties could use any number of technologies to allow easier access. Given the fact that Gallaudet is a deaf college, I could imagine a scenario that these services would even be provided for no charge.

Unfortunately, this is a story that ends all too predictably; the consequences of ADA regulations aren’t that the disabled are helped up, it’s that everyone ends up handicapped.


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