Evaluating Access, Avoiding Liability

  September 24, 2010

I'm Dan Hounsell, editor of Maintenance Solutions magazine. Today's topic is, accessibility and liability.

Newspaper articles continue to report accessibility complaints about shopping centers, movie theatres, colleges and universities, restaurants, and retail stores. The complaints range from "no accessible parking" to "no accessible restrooms in a restaurant."

The cases include existing facilities that have not performed readily achievable barrier removal, as well as organizations that have designed and built new facilities — following implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA — that do not comply with ADA requirements.

When faced with a private lawsuit, it is important to determine if the allegations are valid. The first step is to have an outside entity — one that understands the differences between building code and enforceable ADA standards — perform a professional ADA evaluation.

A side-by-side comparison of the complaint’s allegations and these professional findings often is helpful. If the problems relate to the removal of barriers — including providing compliant parking, and re-surfacing sidewalks and curb ramps — this step can speed the resolution of the complaint without a great deal of time, attention or cost.

But if the professional evaluation uncovers evidence that areas identified in the complaint actually comply with ADA, maintenance and engineering managers have critical information their organizations can use to negotiate.

A professional ADA evaluation also should include the steps necessary to bring the facility into compliance. For example, whether an item is readily achievable depends on the organization’s resources and the nature of the building. If managers have not yet scheduled a full ADA evaluation, this report serves as a crucial step in ADA compliance efforts. By following through with the recommendations, with a clear timeline and budget, a manager often can prevent subsequent ADA complaints.


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