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The number of lawsuits filed against businesses and facilities for alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are on the rise in the last few years. These lawsuits have the potential to cost defendants $5,000 or more per complaint.
The best defense against ADA lawsuits is to begin the process of removing accessibility barriers. Barriers are aspects of the built environment that lessen a disabled person's access. The removal process starts by assessing what needs to be done and then putting in place plans, procedures and policies to guide implementation.
Maintenance and engineering managers need to understand the basics of the ADA. Title III of the ADA addresses public accommodations and commercial buildings. This section prohibits discrimination based on disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases or operates a place of public accommodation.
One of the most important things to understand is that the ADA is a civil rights law, not a building code. Local building code officials do not oversee ADA enforcement. The ADA is enforced when discrimination is alleged through private suit or by certain federal agencies, such as the U.S. Department of Justice. Therefore, just because plans are approved by building inspectors or other officials does not mean the building will be ADA compliant.
To truly know whether an organization is compliant, managers should consult with a professional for specific details related to the facility. A consultant can perform an accessibility audit on the facility.
The audit should include the exterior and interior. The exterior audit of the property should include the path of travel from the street, parking and public transportation. The interior audit should include all areas accessed by visitors, customers and vendors.