When extremism and ignorance collide

WHEN EXTREMISM AND IGNORANCE COLLIDE…. Republican Senate candidate and right-wing ophthalmologist Rand Paul got into a little trouble this week while explaining his opposition to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To a lesser extent, his disagreement with the Americans With Disabilities Act also raised a few eyebrows.

When Wolf Blitzer asked Rand about his ADA opposition, he tried to make his concerns sound reasonable. “[L]et’s say you have a local office and you have a two-story office, and one of your workers is handicapped,” the Republican said. “Should you not be allowed maybe to offer them an office on the first floor or should you be forced to put in a $100,000 elevator? … [M]y understanding is that small business owners were often forced to put in elevators, and I think you ought to at least be given a choice. Can you provide an opportunity without maybe having to pay for an elevator?”

At first blush, that may not sound ridiculous. The problem, as Yahoo News’ John Cook discovered, is that Rand Paul has no idea what he’s talking about, complaining publicly about the ADA without knowing what’s in it.

The legislation specifically exempts the vast majority of buildings three stories and under from any requirement to install elevators. In other words, if you are a small business owner and you have a two-story office and one of your workers is handicapped, no one can force you to build an elevator. It’s true that the exemption doesn’t apply to health care facilities or shopping malls or buildings four stories and up — and Paul, who has an ophthalmology practice, may have been thinking of those provisions when he insisted that businesses are “often forced to put in elevators.”

Trouble is, we searched far and wide for a single instance in which a private employer was successfully sued under the ADA for failing to provide an elevator, or was compelled by a lawsuit to do so, and we came up empty. We searched the case law, contacted ADA experts — both proponents and opponents of the law — the Justice Department, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Not one of them knew of any case involving the government-ordered installation of an elevator. It looks like Rand Paul is either peddling a myth or spinning some vanishingly small number of elevator installations we’ve yet to hear of into an epidemic big-government overreach.

That’s because, while the ADA does impose a burden on employers and business owners to make their facilities accessible, it also contains reasonable restrictions on what owners and operators of existing buildings can be forced to do.

When Cook asked the Paul campaign to substantiate the candidate’s concerns, it did not respond.

Paul’s bizarre worldview is troubling enough; is it too much to ask that he read up on the issues he claims to care about?