Limited Access 

The Americans with Disabilities Act intends to help people. But for some it's a major headache.

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But Paradis says that ADA lawsuits actually hurt the cause, rather than help it. For one thing, they create a foul image for disability activists who are legitimately trying to effect change. For another, they tend to steal all the media attention. Nobody wants to read about the disabled activist who legitimately sued a municipality for not repaving its sidewalks. But everyone loves the story about the man who brought a tape measure into a restaurant and won several thousand dollars for proving that the bathroom mirrors were a few inches off. "There are some individuals and attorneys who seem to focus on those kinds of lawsuits," Paradis said. "And they are a cause for concern."

Wong bristles at the idea of a system that delegates so much power to individual litigants. She says it's shoddy at best; at worst, it's designed to penalize business owners who can't easily access the law. "My parents are a classic example," she wrote in a recent e-mail. "They have never used a computer before." She added that it's doubly hard to stay informed if you're from a different country, and unable to hire a private consultant who speaks your language.

Attorneys who have settled other cases with Dytch say it's unlikely that Wong's family will prevail in this one. In most cases, they say, a settlement is a fait accompli. But Wong is determined. She says that after fighting this case, she might go into a new line of work — helping immigrant business owners navigate ADA law. If she can't thwart the cottage industry, she at least wants to level the playing field.

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