Posted on July 22, 2010
By Kyle Glozier
The twentieth anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is July 26, 2010. But even 20 years after passage of our landmark civil rights law, some businesses and building owners still say that “we are ‘grandfathered in’ so we don’t have to do anything to make our buildings accessible.” They are mistaken. They may do less than what’s required for a newly constructed or significantly renovated building, but they are still required to do something. Under Title III of the ADA, buildings built before the law became effective must be accessible to the extent that is “readily achievable,” meaning that violations are easy to fix without much effort or expense, or it’s not an “undue burden” to the business. An undue burden might involve, for example, putting in an elevator in a small two-story shop.
But there are other changes that are easy. Examples include, but are not limited to, reconfiguring office furniture, widening shopping aisles, installing a ramp to replace a small number of steps, relocating a flower pot to open a path of travel on a sidewalk, and installing a doorbell when an electric door opener is not feasible. A fast-food place that provides fixed tables and chairs must also provide accessible seating dispersed so that it doesn’t appear to be segregating people with disabilities. It is all about proportions. If a restaurant has 5 tables with fixed chairs, at least one must have movable seating.
In some situations, staff assistance can help address an access problem. In a fast food restaurant, if a person can’t reach a self-serve food or drink item, then staff must reach it for them. In a grocery store, staff must assist individuals to reach shelves that are too high or too low.
Of course safety and security must be taken into account, for both the person in a wheelchair and other people. A ramp might not be up to new construction code standards, but is still better than no ramp. As a business grows and has more resources, it may have to make additional improvements to bring it up to code.
Too often owners are uneducated and unaware of the ADA’s requirements. We need to preserve the ADA and hold businesses accountable. Whatever effort they put into making their businesses accessible will be repaid by more business income from people with disabilities, and our families and friends who travel with us!