The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was designed to ensure that all people have access to commercial and public spaces, including those who struggle with disabilities. Most property owners who aren’t disabled themselves don’t know much about the ADA, and researching the specific provisions included in the law can quickly lead uninformed property owners down some serious rabbit holes.
Myths about the ADA and compliance requirements abound, so property owners shouldn’t believe everything they see online. Instead, they can read on to find out about five ADA accessibility myths that might wind up costing them a lot of money.
Myth #1: ADA Requirements Are Building Code Requirements
Although ADA requirements apply to commercial and public property owners, they are not actually building code requirements. The ADA is a civil rights law, and it is always changing. Since it passed, the Department of Justice has released two new versions of the document already, and property owners can expect that they will continue to revise it as new issues come up.
Since the ADA is a civil rights law, not a building code, there’s no official inspector for ADA compliance. It’s up to building owners to ensure that they are following the letter of the law. Property owners who want to find a contractor who is intimately familiar with the ADA can go visit klein-usa.com. Working with contractors who know and respect disability law helps property owners avoid potential non-compliance issues that could land them in court.
Myth #2: Only Landlords Are Liable for Compliance
Business owners who rent commercial property often assume that they cannot be held liable for ADA compliance issues. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Both landlords and commercial tenants have a legal responsibility to ensure that the property remains accessible to the disabled.
Commercial leases often make provisions for which party is required to make structural changes or provide services. Even if this is the case, tenants will not be left off the hook entirely. They still have a legal responsibility to customers, clients, and employees to ensure accessibility.
Part of the reason tenants, as well as landlords, are liable for ADA compliance is that the ADA goes beyond just ensuring access to the mobility impaired. Businesses must also provide auxiliary aids and services as needed. Compliance issues often left to tenants include things like providing interpreters or written materials and arranging computer-aided services.
Myth #3: Historic Buildings Are Exempt from ADA Requirements
The ADA may only be a few decades old, but that doesn’t exempt buildings constructed before it was passed from compliance. There is no grandfather clause in the ADA, and even historical buildings are required to meet compliance standards if they are accessible to the public.
Unlike the first two myths introduced above, there is at least a kernel of truth in the center of the exemption myth. Buildings that were constructed or renovated after the ADA was passed are held to stricter standards for accessible design.
Older and historic building owners still need to take reasonable, readily achievable steps to improve access to the disabled. They must pass a reasonableness test for each individual improvement. If the improvement can be made without incurring unreasonable difficulty or expense, the building owner is responsible for following through on it as soon as possible.
Myth #4: Businesses that Settle ADA Lawsuits Can’t Be Sued a Second Time
Although some states, such as California, have enacted legislation to prevent what are known as “drive-by” ADA lawsuits, business owners who have settled one ADA lawsuit are not immune from further legal actions. Drive-by lawsuits occur when a disabled person visits a business, most often a hotel, retailer, or restaurant, with the explicit intent of finding compliance violations. The person then files a federal lawsuit, causing companies to incur repeated legal fees.
The worst thing about drive-by lawsuits is that they are often filed by plaintiffs who don’t even patronize the business. They often focus on minor, technical issues like the incrementally incorrect placement of mirrors or hand dryers, and those who make a living filing these lawsuits, including both law firms and plaintiffs, are not picky about who to target. They’re more than happy to go after small, family-run businesses.
The best way to avoid drive-by lawsuits is to work with contractors who can ensure that every aspect of new construction or renovations is in compliance with the ADA. Those who have already become a target for drive-by lawsuits may also want to negotiate contracts for future pre-litigation notices to cut back on legal costs in the meantime.
Myth #5: ADA Requirements Are Only for the Wheelchair Bound
The ADA is about more than just ensuring access to wheelchair users, although installing accessible parking spaces and wheelchair ramps is a good place to start. The law also applies to company policies. Examples might include requiring that waiters read menu items to diners with sight impairments or allowing service animals into stores and offices.
There’s little that contractors can do to ensure that clients implement ADA-compliant policies and practices, so the onus for ensuring compliance in this sector falls squarely on the shoulders of business owners. Those who are overwhelmed by the prospect of figuring out how to change company policies to ensure compliance can hire consultants to learn what they need to do to better accommodate disabled customers, clients, and patrons. This often includes providing employee training as well as making modifications to the current business plan.
The Bottom Line
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed with the intention of protecting the rights of disabled Americans. Since most business owners aren’t fluent in legalese, they turn to online resources to determine what will be required to accommodate disabled patrons, but not all the information found online is accurate.
Instead of fixating on how to get around the ADA, landlords and business owners are better off investing their time and money into making the changes necessary to ensure compliance. Hiring contractors who are familiar with ADA requirements is the first step toward avoiding expensive lawsuits, so it’s a good place to start.