ACBS Responds to 60 Minutes' Segment Regarding the ADA

Note: Below is the text of a letter written by the ACBS board members, following the airing of a 60 Minutes segment pertaining to the Americans With Disabilities Act and so-called "drive-by lawsuits." To put our letter in a broader context of why such distortions can be so pernicious, you can read both the script of the segment that aired, along with Lainey Feingold's excellent analysis.
Dear Anderson Cooper, 60 Minutes, and CBS,,

We Of the American Council of Blind Students (ACBS), a proud affiliate of the American Council of the Blind, are extremely troubled and disappointed by your December 4th Sixty Minutes piece on drive-by lawsuits by disabled Americans and the resulting attack on the Americans with Disabilities Act. In a time when all Americans’ civil rights are being called into question, you carelessly opted to capitalize on the climate of fear to cast doubt on a law that has been instrumental in creating equal access for persons with disabilities in this country.
While it is unfortunately true that many Americans take advantage of the legal system for monetary gain, and persons with disabilities are no exception, the instances of frivolous lawsuits are far fewer than those of actual, legitimate accessibility violations. There is no formal enforcement mechanism for businesses to comply with the ADA, as there is with health and safety regulations. Therefore, filing accessibility violation complaints is how most disabled Americans are able to gain equal access to education, employment, and public services. Most of these claims arise from instances of genuine and unlawful discrimination, but, instead of explaining this concerning reality, you painted the picture that disability rights attorneys and disabled Americans turn a profit by inconveniencing small businesses. By narrowly focusing on the small percentage of frivolous accessibility violation lawsuits that occur, you served to vilify the essential work disability rights activists have been doing for decades, and the importance the ADA has served in the past 26 years to disabled Americans.
What is perhaps even more outrageous is that you scrapped your original plan to do a piece celebrating the 25 year anniversary of the ADA, featuring Americans with disabilities, lawyers, and disability rights activists who have been instrumental in this work. You were presented overwhelming evidence of the positive impact that the ADA and alternative dispute resolution processes like structured negotiation have on the world. Instead of airing this piece, however, you aired a story which focused almost exclusively on people to be casted as villains, using some of the original footage outside of its intended context, thereby misrepresenting people’s individual stories.
Disabled Americans, especially those of us who are blind and visually impaired, face regular misconceptions by the public, which give way to discrimination, denied access to services, and harmful stereotypes about our livelihoods. Your piece served to further these harmful misconceptions by insinuating that we use the ADA to hurt businesses, while making a quick buck. You must understand as we do, that predatory or otherwise unethical legal practices are indeed damaging to our cause and call the legitimacy of our work into question. Spotlighting so-called “bad actors” while simultaneously forfeiting the opportunity to provide your viewing audience with a broader framework maintains an environment of mistrust in which people are perpetually suspicious of the unscrupulous disabled person or attorney, fearing aggressive and opportunistic litigation. The legal system is not a frivolous tool which most disabled Americans harness in order to get a paycheck, but rather a system of balanced judgement which can serve as the only avenue through which members of marginalized populations might correct injustice against them. One of the ways the legal system corrects injustice is by enforcing the ADA through accessibility violations claims, and this remains absolutely essential for allowing disabled Americans equal access to their community.
We on behalf of our national student affiliate and the American Council of the Blind would like to call upon CBS and 60 Minutes to air equal coverage of the true stories—the successes and opportunities—of how the ADA has positively impacted the lives of disabled Americans. It is imperative that viewers of your broadcast receive fair and accurate exposure about this landmark piece of Civil Rights legislation, so that the positive gains the disabled community has worked so hard to achieve are not negatively affected by your irresponsible journalism.