Friday, January 19, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, January 19, 2001

Don't wait to be sued on building accessibility

By Lunsford Dole Phillips
Disabled-rights attorney

The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act is "to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities," in the words of Congress. The ADA’s goal is to make our communities fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

Congress designed this 1990 civil rights law to accomplish that goal gradually. The ADA requires most new building construction, renovation and alteration to be fully accessible. Thus, as older buildings are remodeled or replaced over time, more buildings will become fully accessible.

Designing a building to be accessible does not raise costs significantly.

The ADA controversy brewing in Hawaii and elsewhere involves removal of barriers in existing buildings. Some businessmen have complained about the legal costs of "frivolous" ADA lawsuits. Rest assured that if the court finds that a business has been sued without good reason, the court has the power and the duty to award the business all of its legal costs from the party bringing suit.

But most ADA lawsuits are not frivolous. For whatever reason many businesses have not focused on removing barriers. Therefore Hawaii’s noncomplying businesses would be wise to heed one piece of free advice: Don’t wait to be sued. Here are three good reasons to follow this advice.

An existing business’s entire legal obligation is to do what is "readily achievable," meaning without great effort or expense. No one can be driven out of business by the cost of compliance. And most businesses are eligible for a tax credit that largely offsets barrier -removal costs.

If a business has not done what it can to remove barriers, it will eventually be sued and will end up paying the legal costs of both sides. Those costs are likely to be thousands of dollars.

Letting barriers remain is like putting a sign in the window that says to persons with disabilities, "We don’t want your business." Fifteen percent of the population has disabilities. And baby boomers will swell the ranks of persons with disabilities as they age. Smart businesses will beat their competitors to this growing market.

For free information on how to comply with the ADA, call the U.S. Department of Justice hotline at 1-800-466-4232. Or contact a competent accessibility consultant. Be sure your barrier removal is done properly.

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