Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was passed in 1991, was designed to prevent discrimination to those individuals with disabilities. According to the United States Justice Department, the Act is designed to eliminate the “Barriers to employment, transportation, public accommodations, public services, and telecommunications have imposed staggering economic and social costs on American society and have undermined out well intentioned efforts to educate, rehabilitate and employ individuals with disabilities”.
One of the misconceptions of the rules and the regulations of the ADA is that the law only applies to individuals with a disability. This is not the case, as the law applies to a much broader group of people with both physical and mental impairments. The person must have a physical or metal impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
The Act is broken down into five parts, or Titles. Title 1 describes accessibility requirements for employers and disabled employees. Title 2 is reserved for the requirements that local jurisdictions, such as Cities and Municipalities must adhere to for the disabled public. Title 3 deals with Public Accommodations, such as businesses open to the public and commercial facilities used by the public. Titles 4 and 5 are smaller sections handling telecommunications and transportation. One main tenant of the Act is for cities and businesses to remove “barriers” to accessibility. The specific requirement to remove barriers to public accommodations impacts many existing businesses, as well as those businesses considering expanding their existing facility or perhaps building a new facility. It is important to view the ADA and building codes as two separate “concepts” that overlap to an extent. The ADA addresses removing barriers to public accommodations and services and much more, while building codes address much more than just accessibility issues. Civil engineers and architects are familiar with both the applicable codes, as well as the requirements of the ADA, especially when it comes to the removal of barriers to public accommodation and services.
Often failure to comply with the provisions of the ADA will result in lawsuits, which are either initiated by the Department of Justice or a local attorney, who is representing a client that is claiming that discrimination occurred. It is considered discrimination since the alleged violation is preventing the person from doing something because of a physical or mental impairment. Recently in the State of California, a large number of Accessibility lawsuits have been filed against businesses that have not followed the requirements of the ADA to remove accessibility “barriers”. All too often, business owners would rather ignore the law to maintain a barrier free environment than maintain a compliant facility. The Federal Guidelines for the ADA were recently updated in 2010, so it is imperative that business owners and city officials review their facilities and generate a plan for “barrier removal”.