Revisiting ADA Compliance

It’s been 17 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law. But many retailers and restaurant operators still fall short when it comes to making their facilities—new and existing—ADA-compliant. Given that the Department of Justice is getting stricter about compliance, this could be a problem for restaurants and retailers, according to Steve Jones, managing director, Jones Lang LaSalle.

Chain Store Age executive editor Marianne Wilson spoke with Jones about ADA compliance.

Chain Store Age: What are some of the most common mistakes retailers make with regard to ADA compliance?

Jones: While an architect may create as-builts in compliance with the ADA, contractors in the field don’t always work to the same exact specifications. Applying commonly used construction tolerances in the field, for example, may actually create a situation that is now out of compliance with ADA guidelines.

Another mistake is only taking one disability into consideration during the design phase. For example, a lowered counter built for wheelchair-bound customers may create a barrier for blind people. Solutions need to be designed recognizing that disabilities come in many different shapes and sizes.

CSA: As a project-management and facility-management service provider, your firm does ADA surveys. What exactly is involved in this type of review?

Jones: We survey the facility to assess compliance with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, and we typically focus on the customer-facing elements such as parking and access into the facility. Depending on the type and size of facility, a survey may literally have hundreds of questions. Surveys are conducted at each client location, and photos are taken of those items that are not in compliance (“barriers”).

In the barrier analysis, we analyze each site as well as the overall portfolio. At the site level, electronic reports are generated for each location explaining the existing barriers and potential remediation options for each. At the portfolio level, a series of reports are generated to demonstrate the magnitude of each non-compliant item (e.g., how many entrances are not in compliance), which is in turn used for budgeting and bulk purchasing of products and services.

CSA: Why would a chain get an ADA survey?

Jones: The ADA requires businesses open to the public to remove accessibility barriers in their stores regardless of when the facility was built. This is a proactive requirement that is not limited to capital improvements or remodeling. An ADA survey reveals the existing accessibility barriers, thus helping owners understand their exposure and take steps to remediate barriers. An ADA survey could also be mandated as part of a settlement with the Department of Justice if a claim is brought against the retailer.

CSA: Are there any direct benefits to be gained from an ADA survey?

Jones: Being proactive in conducting surveys may help a company avoid future lawsuits from customers alleging ADA violations. In the past, the Department of Justice has ruled favorably on companies that can demonstrate a track record in trying to remove ADA barriers at their locations. In most cases, the cost of remediation is far less than the legal and settlement costs associated with a claim.

CSA: For commercial spaces, have there been any major changes to the law since it was passed?

Jones: The law went into effect on Jan. 26, 1993. These are the guidelines that are currently used for ADA compliancy, but that is not to say that proposed changes are not in the pipeline. An ADAAG Review Advisory Committee was quickly established in 1994 to review and recommend changes to the original guidelines based on changing technology, model codes and national standards. The committee’s proposed revisions were published in July 2004, but, to date, the Department of Justice has not yet approved them.

CSA: What, if any, other services does Jones Lang LaSalle provide with regard to ADA?

Jones: In addition to surveying locations to determine if/where barriers exist, Jones Lang LaSalle often manages the back-end remediation of those barriers, such as correcting a parking lot that slopes too much. We also can help to prepare and submit a budget for the remediation work in order to request funding for the improvements.

CSA: If you could offer one bit of advice to retailers with regard to the ADA, what would it be?

Jones: Don’t assume that anyone can conduct a thorough ADA survey. The survey is very complex and requires subject matter expertise. The back-end reporting must be detailed enough, with the appropriate recommendations, that a company can make knowledgeable decisions regarding its assets and prove that it has taken the appropriate steps for implementation should a lawsuit arise.

More importantly, companies need to proactively manage ADA compliance—don’t wait for an expensive lawsuit and unfavorable publicity.

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