In its 25 years of existence, the Americans with Disabilities Act has been both hailed as a monumental law that ensures equality for people with disabilities, as well as called an enabler of frivolous lawsuits.  The tension between both sides is explored through following a retired firefighter with a disability who has filed approximately 60 ADA lawsuits and a business owner with a disability who was sued under the law. 

In his short film RAMPED UP, Reid Davenport skillfully and effectively takes on a tension-filled and complicated issue in the post-Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) era: lawsuits against small businesses.  Filmed by and from the perspective of several people with disabilities on all sides of this issue, RAMPED UP focuses on an apparent contradiction between the rights of disabled people to – as an ADA bumper sticker from the early 1990s noted – “boldly go where everyone else has gone before” and the economic challenges small business owners may face in their efforts to provide full access to everyone.   With provocative footage of and commentary by customers, small business owners, and others in small towns hit hard by litigation related to disability access,  RAMPED UP challenges its viewers not only to see multiple sides of an important disability-rights issue, but also to imagine what it would really take to make full access and inclusion a reality for everyone.

Joan M. Ostrove, professor of psychology, Macalester College
Synopsis: 

The Americans with Disabilities Act - signed into law in 1990 - was referred to as the Emancipation Proclamation for Americans with disabilities. But because the government mostly lacks the power to ensure the law is followed, people with disabilities bear the primary burden of its enforcement through lawsuits.  Defendants of these lawsuits say that the law is far too technical for business owners to keep up with, which leads to abuse.  RAMPED UP addresses the pitfalls of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the politics and money that are stilled tied up with accessibility in America.  

The film follows two people with disabilities.  Robert Kalani has filed about 60 lawsuits under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Lee Ky's family-owned donut shop, which she manages from her wheelchair, got sued under the ADA.  While both Kalani and Ky recognize the gaps in accessibility in the U.S., they each have diametrically opposing views on how to remedy inaccessibility.  Ky believes business owners like herself should receive notice and time to make necessary improvements before they can be sued, while Kalani believes that the owners have no excuse to not already be compliant with the law. 

Reviews

[3.5 Stars]

"Filmmaker Reid Davenport’s RAMPED UP provokes thought about the great need for accessibility...Offering an insightful look at a thorny subject, this is highly recommended."

Video Librarian

"'RAMPED UP' is a documentary that dispels popular misconceptions about 'frivolous' ADA lawsuits and the disabled people who are impacted by them. This film provides a close-up look at accessibility and accommodations from the perspective of small business owners and disabled customers."  

Alice Wong, founder of the Disability Visibility Project, Appointee under President Obama

After Reid's appearance on Newshour, Woodruff concluded, "Reid Davenport, we owe you a huge debt of gratitude and I hope everyone watching this segment will share it."

Judy Woodruff, PBS Newshour
Director's Commentary: 

I was born two weeks after the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. As a person with cerebral palsy in his late 20s, I can now see how much the ADA has affected my life, from ensuring that my education is accommodating to expanding physical access. So when I heard that there were serial litigants suing numerous businesses under the ADA, I was fascinated, disturbed and knew that I needed to know more. Were these lawsuits the result of a law that has rendered the government toothless, or was the backlash against these lawsuits the very reason why the law isn’t stronger? The answer is of course nebulous. But what is for certain is that as long as the government lacks the power to enforce accessibility, there will be serial litigants, there will be major pushback from business against accessibility regulation, and the ADA will become less and less about ensuring accessibility for all Americans.