You Don't Know What You Don't Know

Submitted by Chris Murphy on Wed, 02/20/2019

Since I first started in my role at the RMADAC, I can’t help but see the world in a different light. At work, I’m in charge of knowing as much as I can about physical compliance standards. Every time I go out to eat, I notice something that isn’t quite right, in terms of accessibility for people who live with disabilities. It’s not that I didn’t care before, just that I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

If you don’t know what’s wrong, how are you supposed to know how that affects someone else, or how to fix it? I’d wager that many businesses fall into this circumstance when it comes to their facilities and policies. I doubt any business is purposefully discriminating against the disabled population, but that is also why the ADA exists. Discrimination, whether intentional or not is still discrimination.

Under the ADA, an individual with a disability that has experienced discrimination is entitled to enforce their rights. This can be done by either filing a complaint with the Dept. of Justice or by filing a civil lawsuit. At the RMADAC, we suggest to people to speak with the management of entities who are responsible for non-compliant businesses for easier and faster effective change. In a perfect world, that’s all that would be necessary, but we do not live in a perfect world, which is why they are allowed to pursue action in a court of law. I would like to take a moment to list easy ways for a business to limit incurring liability under the ADA.

Restrooms are probably the biggest offenders when it comes to effectively discriminating against someone who has a disability. If your business provides restrooms to the public, they should be useable to all people, not just able-bodied people. When I say the term “usable” I mean able to use everything in the restroom should be accessible, including the toilet, sink, mirror, and anything else you provide for everyone. Public use toilets usually (but not always) adhere to the ADA Standards, but the mirrors are often too high to be used from a seated position, trash cans can be placed in areas that obstruct clear floor or maneuvering space, and pipes under the sink are exposed.

Parking lots are another place to pick the lowest hanging fruit of compliance. Many parking lots in small business centers have no accessible parking at all, and that is just not right. Different size lots have different requirements for how many accessible spaces are needed. The elements of an accessible parking space go beyond only reserving the space and include: having an access aisle, being relatively flat in all directions, not having ramps run into the access aisle, and always having at least 1 “van accessible” space.

If you are a business owner who is reading this, take a look at your site. If you enjoy a business and notice some of these things, maybe tell the owner to be aware. If you now know what you don’t know, the RMADAC is here just for that purpose, to inform you. It’s our job to inform anyone who has responsibilities under the ADA as to what they are, but it is not our job to go door to door imparting wisdom.

The last subject I wanted to touch on is to not rely on complying with the building code and assume a business is complaint with the ADA. While there is a lot of overlap between the two, but the ADA is more comprehensive. The goal of the ADA is to ensure equal opportunity to participate and has many facets that also govern the policies and practices of business.


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The Rocky Mountain ADA Center's blog, Access Granted, tackles ADA issues through unique and diverse perspectives. Articles are written by staff of RMADAC and a variety of special guest authors. Some may be educational, others might be personal or thought-provoking. Either way, Access Granted will bring you the ADA of today!

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