But first...why the American with Disabilities Act?
Litigation is a last resort, and for the A4EA, litigation only happens when the offending business or organization refuses to compromise to provide handicapped accessibility or to remove barriers to handicapped access. Since the ADA is federal legislation, litigation often takes place in federal court, and it is very expensive to defend against a lawsuit alleging violations of the ADA in federal court. Attorneys and expert ADA witnesses with very specialized skills need to be retained and they are costly. Usually, the defendant will be found to be at fault and will be court-ordered to pay OUR attorneys fees and OUR expert witnesses as well as their own. At the end of almost all litigation, the business will be Court ordered to provide more access to the disabled anyway.
If you're faced with the prospect of litigation you might consider other options instead. It makes good business sense to try to work out a resolution which doesn't involve a year or two of litigation costs and headaches. When a business is willing to compromise by increasing the accessibility of their facility, they enjoy additional sales and can offset the costs by taking advantage of tax credits available for increasing accessibility. Best of all, they will know that they've done the right thing.
AND, AT YOUR BUSINESS;
The photo above showing the stairs and ramp that are supposed to provide access to someone in a wheelchair is an exaggerated example of what takes place in many businesses every day. You may feel that your business is "accessible", but if you are not the person needing the access you probably don't know just how inaccessible your business is. The only way for you to know for sure and avoid problems is to get an accessibility audit. They are much cheaper than hiring attorneys, and they will help you to accommodate ALL your customers, as the law requires.
Before the ADA was enacted, people with disabilities were often ignored, pushed to the side, and even abused, both in the work place and the market place. They didn't have a voice, no voice and no power to change their circumstances. It is sufficiently challenging for people with serious disabilities to be able to get through their day without having to suffer from the thoughtlessness or intentional discrimination of others, and at some point the need for legislation protecting them became obvious. A few enlightened individuals in Congress helped to push legislation protecting the disabled from being short changed by others who saw the disabled as less than themselves, and thus came forth different iterations of disability rights legislation which has culminated in what we have today in the ADA.
There are no "ADA Police", so a business, municipality, hospital, school or other organization who are not abiding by the rules and regulations promulgated by the ADA are encouraged through mediation to make modifications to their policies, practices or procedures so that the disabled can participate in an equal manner as those who are not disabled. Enforcement of this legislation comes via the United States Department of Justice as well as disabled individuals and organizations such as the A4EA. When mediation breaks down, litigation is the ONLY other vehicle available to the disabled for enforcing this law.
People who live with severe disabilities every day do not understand why, after 25 years since the passage of the ADA, they still cannot get into a business or find a decent seat at a movie theater or be able to use a public restroom, get a cab, or even get through a restaurant entrance as anyone else can. Sometimes, after having being excluded from a special event they really wanted to attend or a meal they were looking forward to, they decide that they will exercise their legal rights if the venue will not co-operate in making their business or facility accessible to them. And thus, you get lawsuits.
(As published in Facilities.Net)
Joan W. Stein, president and CEO of ADA, Inc.,
a national ADA consulting firm based in Pittsburgh, PA.