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Managers in institutional and commercial facilities looking to avoid problems with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can benefit from taking a proactive approach to the act's accessibility guidelines, which are far more than a set of requirements.
"The ADA is a civil rights law and a building code," says Joan Stein, president and CEO of Accessibility Development Associates, adding it continues to have a major impact on facilities more than 20 years after its enactment. More than 200 private ADA lawsuits are filed monthly in U.S. federal courts nationwide, she said.
How can managers get a sense of whether their facilities present barriers to accessibility? Stein says if somebody with a disability has to do something that is unequal, such as calling ahead before visiting a facility or going out of his or her way to gain access, the facility has a problem.
Facilities can use several permissible explanations for not complying with the regulations, Stein says. These explanations cover three instances: cases where changes to a facility would: be structurally impractical; alter the basic nature of the operation; or create financial hardship for the organization.
But she advises managers to tread carefully in one particular situation.
"Don't say 'financial hardship' unless you are prepared to open your books," Stein says. "They will make you open your books, and it is painful."
She also advises managers to be proactive regarding potential accessibility problems because doing so can give facilities better control over the process of making changes.
"If you wait for a complaint to be filed, you will lose control of the process," Stein says, adding the department will tell facilities what to do regarding mandatory changes, as well as when facilities must complete them.