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Gaining Access

Reprinted from PN Feburary 2017

Despite the actions of some people and groups, it's not always necessary to file a lawsuit to have an ADA violation fixed at a business or public facility

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Signed into law more than 25 years ago, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) has done a great deal to help protect people with disabilities from discrimination. However, the ADA still faces difficulties, and sometimes the trouble occurs when people or groups try to take advantage of the law.

Specific problems center under Title III of the ADA, which requires places of public accommodations — such as doctors’ offices, restaurants, stores and hotels — to be accessible for people with disabilities. Sometimes these places fail to meet ADA requirements for a variety of reasons, including negligence and ignorance of the law. 

There are people and groups across the country who have been trying to exploit a lack of compliance for financial gain. Rather than working with a store or restaurant to bring it into compliance, these groups file lawsuits seeking money.

Lawsuits regarding accessibility violations have been a hot topic in the news lately. While the ADA doesn’t allow damages in lawsuits, the named party in the suit is responsible for the attorney fees for both sides if they lose. 

“Many times what’s happening is these lawyers are sending demand letters, and even though the ADA doesn’t allow for damages, someone might settle just to make it go away,” says Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) Associate General Counsel for Corporate and Government Relations Heather Ansley, Esq., MSW. “So they may say, pay us $5,000, and we will consider this matter settled and move on. They’re not trying to file an ADA lawsuit to actually make things better. ”

If You Find A Violation

There have been efforts to try and fix those types of situations, such as the ADA Notification Act, which was introduced in the U.S. House in February 2013.

This act would require the plaintiff to notify the defendant in writing regarding the ADA violations before filing a lawsuit. The ADA hasn’t supported these notification bills, which are expected to be a pertinent issue for Congress this year.

“The ADA would be the only civil rights law required to do that. They’ve already had 25 years to fix the problems. Now you are going to require us to give notification before we require them to comply with the rule of law,” says PVA Senior Associate Advocacy Director Lee Page.

Despite potential issues with the notification bills and the problems of frivolous lawsuits, there’s plenty you can do to honestly and properly fix an accessibility problem.

If you find a business is in violation of the ADA, you may file a complaint with the Disability Rights Section (DRS) in the Department of Justice. The complaint can be filed online through the ADA website (ada.gov), or it can be mailed or faxed.

The department will then investigate the complaints and seek to resolve the issue. The ADA also gives individuals with disabilities the right to file lawsuits and obtain court orders to stop violations in federal court. However, those facing accessibility obstructions can also seek assistance from sources other than the ADA, such as local civil rights commissions. 

“It may be faster to file the complaint through your local civil rights commission. Then they can look at it from how this may violate local and state laws, and they may have more resources and be more quickly able to adjunct the claim,” says Ansley. “If there’s more than one thing that’s covered, you don’t have to go to the ADA. You can also try some of these other avenues, as well.” 

For more information, visit ada.gov, or to find a local ADA National Network, visit adata.org.  

 

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