IS YOUR BUSINESS PREMISE ACCESSIBLE TO PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES?
You need to ask yourself this question more often, is your business facility accessible to people with disabilities? When was the last time you measured the curb’s ramp slope leading to your facility? Or have you recently checked the access aisles of the parking lot leading to your facility? If you have not done any of those things lately, you are risking a plaintiff lawsuit. As long as yours is a public facility, it should comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) accessibility guidelines. Note that accessibility cases are rapidly increasing, not to mention the number of demand letters being sent out to business owners on accessibility claims. You should implement the necessary measures to ensure you protect your business from being the next bull’s eye.
The ADA accessibility guidelines
Congress enacted the ADA in 1990 to set standards such as the ADA ramp slope requirement to ensure people with disabilities can access commercial facilities and public accommodations. It prohibits the discrimination of people with disabilities in the equal enjoyment of services, goods, facilities, or privileges by any person who owns, leases, leases to, or operates a public accommodation. It covers commercial facilities such as offices, warehouses, factories, and private institutions as well. However, it does not cover entities controlled by religious organizations such as worship and private clubs unless it is made a place of public accommodation.
Building accessibility standards
The act contains two different standards that regulate building accessibility. One is concerned with facilities existing before 26th January 1993 whereby it requires removing architectural barriers where it is easily achievable without much costs or difficulty. Barrier removal practices include making curb cuts at sidewalks and entryways, installing ramps, widening doorways, installing grab bars in toilet stalls, adding braille or raised letters in elevator control buttons. Other measures include rearranging tables, chairs, vending machines, display racks, and other furniture to accommodate people with disabilities.
The second standard pertains to facilities constructed after 26th January 1993, which are required to be readily accessible to people with disabilities by complying with the accessibility guidelines during construction. For instance, there must be accessible entrances in the parking lots, elevated walkways, or pedestrian tunnels. The accessible route must also link to public transportation stations, passenger loading zones, parking spaces, public streets, or sidewalks to all the accessible areas within a building.
What a plaintiff recovers in an accessibility claim
A plaintiff with an accessibility claim that a business has failed to follow the ADA guidelines in making their premises accessible to people with disabilities only seeks injunctive relief. That is, the court instructs the company to do something about it. A business owner also risks their business from being shut down until it complies with ADA guidelines.
Apart from the injunctive or non-monetary relief, the court awards the plaintiff relief deemed necessary, such as attorney fees, expert fees, and litigation costs.
To prevent any liability, you must be proactive and consult with an architectural firm or hire a code consultation firm specializing in ADA accessibility to review your business premise. Sometimes it is just as easy as adjusting the height of a sign or moving a few tables to make your facility accessible to people with disabilities. That way, you save a lot of costs that you would have incurred in defense and liability in the case of an accessibility lawsuit.