Over 50 million Americans have disabilities and each is a potential customer. If your business has not considered the needs of individuals living with disabilities – or considered accessibility issues, recently – you may be alienating a potential client-base, as well as inviting lawsuits. The ADA allows individuals to sue businesses that are not in compliance with the ADA’s Title III accessibility requirements. Plaintiffs may recover their attorneys’ fees in such suit, which provides a strong incentive for plaintiffs’ attorneys to seek out such suits. Defending these suits can be costly; however, it is never too late to make changes. As outlined below, now may just be the perfect time to audit your ADA compliance.
If you have not reviewed your business’s ADA Title III compliance in a number of years, now is a good time to do so. On March 15, 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its final regulations implementing the 2008 ADA Amendment Act (ADAAA) and adopting a new, and generally higher, set of accessibility requirements for all new construction. The compliance date for the new standards was March 15, 2012. The new standards make numerous changes to accessibility requirements; for instance requiring lower light switches and thermostats, requiring more van-accessible parking spaces, and providing new requirements for the function of ATM keypads.
Your business’s existing facilities are generally exempt from the new standards; but, there are a number of ways you may still run afoul of the new standards:
- Failure to make alternations compliant with the new building standards.
Even though existing facilities are generally exempt, alterations of existing facilities must comply with the new building standards. Alterations may be something as small as resurfacing a parking lot or moving an ATM. Companies that have made changes to existing facilities since March 15, 2012, or have plans for renovations in the future, should make sure the changes are compliant with the new regulations.
- Failure to make previously unaddressed facilities compliant with the new building standards.
Title III’s previous building standards, the 1991 Standards, did not address a number of different facilities, for example those with exercise machines, bowling alleys, golf facilities, amusement rides, play areas, swimming pools and other recreation facilities. If your business operates any of these types of facilities, you must insure that they are complaint with the new building standards.
- Failure to comply with the 1991 Standards.
Your business may also be liable if your existing facilities do not fully comply with the 1991 Standards. Under those Standards, businesses have an obligation to make changes that do not require much difficulty and expense. The changes required are ultimately dependent on the time and expense required as well as the resources of your business. The following are some common mistakes under the 1991 Standards:
- Failure to install entrance ramps
- Failure to reposition shelves, tables, chairs and other furniture
- Failure to widen doors and bathroom stalls
- Failure to install grab bars in toilet stalls
- Failure to lower bathroom fixtures
- Failure to provide the required number of accessible parking spaces