Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (hereinafter “ADA”) requires public accommodations to provide goods and services to people with disabilities on an equal basis with the rest of the general public. The stated goal is to afford every individual the opportunity to benefit from our country’s businesses and services, and to afford our businesses and services the opportunity to benefit from the patronage of all Americans.
In broad brush strokes, the regulations interpreting the ADA require that architectural and communication barriers that are structural must be removed in public areas of existing facilities when their removal is “readily achievable” – a phrase that has been defined in the case law as something that is easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. “Public accommodations” that must meet the barrier removal requirement include a broad range of establishments (both for-profit and nonprofit) such as hotels, restaurants, theaters, museums, retail stores, private schools, banks, doctors’ offices, and other places that serve the public. For Innovators who own, lease, lease out, or operate places of public accommodation in existing buildings, this means they could be responsible for complying with the barrier removal requirements of the ADA, no matter how small or large the business might be – and regardless of whether any new structural work or modifications are undertaken to the place of public accommodations.
Of course, as with many facets of the law, there are exceptions (and exceptions to those exceptions) with respect to what is (and what is not) readily achievable in terms of access barrier removal. While the removal of barriers can sometimes be achieved by making simple changes to the physical environment, the regulations do not define exactly how much effort and expense are required for a facility to meet its obligation under the ADA. This judgment must be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration such factors as the size, type, and overall financial resources of the public accommodation, and the nature and cost of the access improvements needed.
These factors are described in more detail in the ADA regulations issued by the Department of Justice (which can be found at http://www.ada.gov/regs2010/titleIII_2010/titleIII_ 2010_regulations.htm.) Because each case is so fact-specific and the ADA regulations are voluminous and often confusing and overwhelming with respect to their application to a small business owner, speaking with an attorney well-versed in Title III ADA claims can be invaluable to the continued success of your business.