No ramps. No grab bars. No elevators. No access. No fair.
Although the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has been federal law since 1990, in many places accessibility still isn’t a reality.
There are no “ADA police” searching for accessibility violations. Instead, accessibility is enforced through private lawsuits — a lengthy and expensive process — or through complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
Each year, approximately 300 DOJ complaints are settled relatively quickly and inexpensively through the ADA Mediation Program, a free service with a 75 percent success rate in reaching agreements.
Mediation is a voluntary process in which the complainant (i.e., person with a disability) and respondent (i.e., business owner) sit down in a convenient, accessible location with a neutral, non-judging third party to discuss the situation and see if they can reach a mutually satisfying solution. An attorney isn’t required, although either party may have one present.
Agreements are binding, and the case isn’t formally settled until the solution has been implemented. If no agreement is reached, the complainant or DOJ may pursue other legal remedies.
Examples of ADA mediation settlements include:
- An amphitheater at a Texas amusement park that only provided accessible seating with poor lines of sight agreed to restructure so accessible seats are available throughout the theater.
- A small flower shop in Pennsylvania that couldn’t easily be made wheelchair accessible agreed to install a call bell at the door and provide curb or home service for customers with disabilities.
- A large craft store in Colorado that had aisles blocked by merchandise and heavy entrance doors agreed to clear the aisles and install automatic doors.
- A Texas hotel that charged a higher rate for the only room with a roll-in shower because it also contained a hot tub changed its policy to charge regular room rates to guests with disabilities.
How to file
To discover whether an architectural barrier or organizational policy violates the ADA, call the ADA Hotline, (800) 514-0301, or the Disability Business Technical Assistance Center (DBTAC) at (800) 949-4232. Information also is available online at the DOJ Web site, www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada/mediate.htm, or the DBTAC site, www.adata.org
To file an access complaint, write the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, 950 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Disability Rights Section – NYAV, Washington, DC 20530. Although DOJ automatically refers appropriate cases to mediation, you may speed up the process a little by writing “mediation” on your complaint.
One warning: Complainants who refuse to mediate may have their complaints closed without a DOJ investigation. However, if the respondent refuses to mediate, DOJ automatically institutes a formal investigation.