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What's up with the ADA?

IT HAS BEEN MORE THAN a year since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is not concise or easy to understand, and the past year has brought forward more misinformation and confusion about the new law than clarification.

Many so-called ADA compliance experts, such as general contractors, architects, and attorneys, have marketed advice packaged with their regular services. Reliable, unbiased, usable information is hard to get.

Not all organizations are affected in the same way. The law covers so many topics that it is wise for an individual to understand how his or her own organization is affected by the ADA.

ADA police. There is no such thing as an ADA police department. Enforcement is not being carried out as it was by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), where compliance inspections were routinely conducted. This does not mean that noncompliance will be tolerated. The regulating government agencies--the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Architectural Transportation Compliance Board (ATCB), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)--are responsible for enforcing various parts of the ADA.

The federal regulatory agencies will not be taking a passive role. Complaints have been received from individuals in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia and relate to all types of public accommodations. Approximately 70 percent of the complaints allege failure to remove barriers in existing facilities. About 20 percent concern discriminatory policies, and 10 percent relate to lack of auxiliary aids, usually interpreters for the hearing impaired. The DOJ hopes to complete an evaluation of the cases at the end of the year.

The Clinton administration has demonstrated its interest in civil rights legislation, and the ADA is one of the issues on which it intends to focus. One government organization that is gearing up for action is the EEOC. It has gone on a hiring campaign to add 250 investigators to its staff to meet the anticipated increase of complaints. It is estimated that the EEOC will receive an additional 12,000 cases per year.

Corporate response. To comply with the ADA, a corporation must understand what is meant by the law's two most significant phrases, "readily achievable" and "reasonable accommodation." By taking the time to research these concepts, a corporation will realize low-cost and no-cost ways in which ADA compliance may be achieved.

Many major corporations, such as Nordstrom Inc., Anheuser-Busch Company, Inc., United Airlines, and K-Mart Corporation are not waiting to be forced into compliance and are currently researching these issues. These corporations are also featuring people with disabilities in advertisements and are receiving the benefits of positive media attention.

The lodging industry is emerging as one of the leaders in ADA compliance efforts. For example, Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced immediate and long-term changes to make its hotels barrier-free. Hyatt operates approximately 108 properties in the United States. The company has installed telecommunications devices for the deaf, vibrating alarm clocks, and strobe lights for smoke alarms, and it is retrofitting its door hardware with lever-handle locks.

Hot issues. The ADA does not provide any grandfather clauses, and all of the signalling devices used in fire and life safety systems are subject to compliance.

Two government publications can help security professionals understand the implications of the law: ADA Accessibility Guidelines and Uniform Federal Accessibility Standards. These technical manuals contain the specific details regarding acceptable door opening widths, closing speed, device mounting locations, and bathroom specifications.

ADA legal briefs. It is no coincidence that the Association of Trial Lawyers of America has formed the Automatic Door Litigation Group to spot contingency-free opportunities arising from these new federal requirements. Consider the following cases:

* DOJ has filed an action against a CPA accounting review course provider. The agency has alleged that this firm is in violation of the ADA. The specific charge is that the firm refused to provide assistance, such as a sign language interpreter, to hearing impaired students.

* An attorney with attention deficit disorder and dyslexia filed suit in the U.S. District Court of Manhattan against the New York State Board of Law Examiners alleging that the board failed to reasonably accommodate her disability.

* A class action suit has been filed on behalf of hearing and speech impaired New Yorkers who use telecommunications devices for the deaf. Plaintiffs claim that they do not have equal access to the city's 911 emergency-response system.

Watch out. The National Council on Disability (NCOD), a federal agency, hopes that its recently launched ADA Watch program will be instrumental in giving Congress a clearer picture of how the country is reacting to the ADA. It also wants to bring businesses with similar compliance issues together to discuss compliance alternatives. ADA Watch will be making recommendations to the administration and Congress regarding steps federal agencies could take to make the law more comprehensive.

The Equal Remedies Act has been approved by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. This act uncaps the current limits of monetary damages ($50,000 to $300,000) for punitive and compensatory damages relating to job discrimination. A companion bill is pending in the House Judiciary and Education and Labor Committees.

Clearly, companies that do not get out in front of ADA compliance will be targeted for enforcement. Such incidents will be costly in terms of both dollars and image. Taking a preventive approach is the only logical course.

Peter J. Lindemann is executive director of Star Architectural Security in New York City. He is a member of the ASIS Standing Committee on Physical Security.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society for Industrial Security
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Viewpoint; Americans with Disabilities Act
Author:Lindemann, Peter J.
Publication:Security Management
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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