Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Consult Before You Change

At a local restaurant I am reminded how building owners can get themselves into trouble with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in an instant.   I frequent a nicely themed restaurant that was just built a couple of years ago so you would expect the building meets all of the requirements of the ADA and it probably does, however, the owner has made an innocent change that could cost them several thousand dollars in the form of an ADA lawsuit.

When the restaurant was built a couple of years ago, it had the proper signage on the restroom doors as required by the ADA…………..a triangle on the men’s and a circle on the women’s.   Everything is good…………….right??   Wrong!!!

As you can see from the picture above, the owner has installed a themed porthole window over the ADA restroom door signage.   Unfortunately by installing the porthole window the owner does not realize they have violated the ADA because they simply do not understand the intent of the ADA.  

What the owner in this case does not understand is the signs on the restroom entry door are an indication to the blind or visually impaired which restroom is appropriate for their sex.   Blind or visually impaired individuals will feel the signs to determine if it’s the men’s due to the points of the triangle or women’s due to the lack of points.   These symbols are of utmost importance to those who are blind or have limited vision in finding and using the correct restroom.   This one violation may and probably will cost the restaurant several thousand dollars.

I have discussed this with one of the restaurant managers and was met with limited concern and was informed the building met the current codes.   What management did not understand is that while the restaurant may have met all of the code requirements at the time, they have violated the ADA when they added the porthole window and now may be the subject of an ADA lawsuit totaling thousand of dollars.

It’s an odd quirk of the ADA that simple changes the owner innocently makes can result in a violation of the ADA and these changes are exactly what serial plaintiffs are looking to identify when they file a lawsuit for violations of the ADA.   This is especially true in the restrooms where there are usually a multitude of violations including accessories that are mounted too high.

So how do owners protect themselves?   They enlist the services of an ADA professional.  In California, this would be a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) who is an expert on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and can provide a CASp Report which outlines any areas of non-compliance with the ADA.   In addition, the owner needs to think of the ADA professional as part of his team of consultants similar to the attorney or the accountant.   Any changes to the existing facility need to discussed with the ADA professional before being implemented.