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Post 1 of 3: What does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mean for you?
Federal laws that don’t focus primarily on regulating the commercial real estate industry can still have a substantial impact on business and real estate owners. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. On the heels of amendments to the Act implemented January 1, 2009, the impact of the ADA on commercial real estate continues to evolve. This is the first in a series of articles discussing some of the central provisions and amendments to the ADA and its effects on the commercial real estate industry.
FIRST, IS YOUR BUILDING OR BUSINESS SUBJECT TO ADA REGULATIONS?
Even if you operate a small, private, retail or services business, you are subject to the ADA as long as your business is a place of public accommodation. A “place of public accommodation” is a facility that operates to affect commerce in some way; this includes hotels, restaurants, movie theaters, convention centers, retail stores, museums, libraries, parks, gyms, schools, and most similar establishments.
The ADA prohibits places of public accommodation from discriminating against any individual on the basis of disability in the “full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services…etc.” of the establishment. Essentially, people with disabilities must be able to access the goods and services at your establishment to the same or similar extent as people without disabilities.
NEXT, WHO QUALIFIES AS A PERSON WITH A DISABILITY?
The ADA defines a “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. The 2008 Amendments to the ADA expanded this definition to encompass a wider range of major life activities, including major bodily functions, and episodic disabilities if they would substantially limit the person when active. The result was to broaden the definition of “disability” to include more types of disabilities.
While some disabilities do not impact a person’s ability to access public accommodations, it’s important to recognize that accommodations go beyond providing wheelchair ramps or signs using Braille. Under this new, broadened interpretation of disability, conditions such as obesity, and certainly morbid obesity, have been ruled to be disabilities for which reasonable public accommodation is required.
Therefore, whether you’re setting up your store front, organizing products, or deciding on the general layout of your establishment, it’s important to keep in mind that your services and goods must be accessible to people with a wide range of disabilities. If you don’t comply with the ADA requirements, you risk a lawsuit from a disabled individual or from the Department of Justice. These requirements, in detail, are in the Act itself as well as on the United States Department of Labor website at: http://www.dol.gov/dol/topic/disability/ada.htm
later, we’ll discuss what the ADA requirements you must consider when you undertake new construction or major renovations to your property or business establishment.
Read the rest in our series: