Keep an eye on Title III
ADA access reg could require
expensive compliance measures
If you’re a public accommodation (like a restaurant, hotel, hospital, or a retail establishment) pay attention to the ADA accommodation that the Justice Department wants you to implement under proposed regulations under Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. In other words, if you open your doors to the public, that portion of the public with disabilities would get significantly more access to your facility.
In principle it is difficult to argue with the good intentions behind this proposed rule. And perhaps the logistics and awkwardness of a seeing eye dog in a fine dining establishment could be worked out; dogs accompany their owners to restaurants in many European cities, whether the owners are disabled or not. And some hospitals already provide some access to sign-language interpreters, at no charge to deaf patients, to enable them to communicate with their physicians.
But the DOJ has projected the cost of corporate compliance nationwide, and the number is astronomical: $23 billion. This would take in service animals, interpreters, motorized mobility devices, and structural access requirements like hotel rooms for the disabled to the extent hotels guarantee other subcategories of rooms. This would entail self-service display units in stores being accessible to the disabled, crunching sales space (the proposed maximum of distance from the disabled customer to the display unit would be 48 inches from the floor).
Note that small business get no special exemption under Title III. If you operate a public accommodation, you’re covered.
The comment period for this proposed federal regulation expired last month. We understand that the volume of comments from the business community and other affected sectors of the economy was substantial. The Department of Justice has advised that it will publish a final version before President Bush leaves office. Let us hope that reason prevails and that the requirements that take effect will strike a balance between fair access under the law and imposition of undue hardship on public accommodations.