July 26, 1990, stands as a landmark day for civil rights in the United States. On that day, President George H.W. Bush (aka George I) signed the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. On that day, people with disabilities were recognized as equally contributing citizens in the eyes of the law.
Fast forward to July 2018, and the ADA is still the law of the land. In fact, it has been amended and updated several times over the last 28 years. But equal access to our communities is still not consistent practice.
The ADA is probably best known for its mandates around physical accessibility to buildings. However, the ADA covers far more than just facility modifications. Here’s a quick overview of what you’ll find in the ADA:
Title I covers equal opportunities to employment. People with disabilities must be afforded the same access to jobs and benefits as their non-disabled coworkers, and employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to help employees with disabilities be successful in their jobs.Title II prohibits public agencies, like state and local governments, from discriminating based on disability. Public transportation must be accessible to all.Title III is the section of the law that addresses standards for access to public accommodations and services. This includes privately-owned services such as stores, hotels, restaurants, medical offices, recreational settings and other businesses that are open to the public. The barriers that are addressed include physical barriers (such as stairs) as well as communication barriers and policies that might create barriers for people with disabilities.Title IV addresses telecommunications and ensures people with hearing or speech difficulties are able to access the internet and telephone systems.Unfortunately, there is still much misinformation circulating about ADA requirements (such as the oft-repeated rumor that some businesses and buildings are “grandfathered in”; the ADA has no grandfathering clause). As a result, the law is routinely broken by businesses and building owners, many of whom simply do not understand the requirements.
The ADA anniversary in July is thus a perfect time to bring attention back to the law and the resources available to understand and follow it. The ADA National Network (adata.org) has a plethora of resources, tools and training on ADA requirements. Businesses in Durango can also access free ADA assessments and funding for accessibility improvements from a city of Durango grant provided to Community Connections and the Accessible Communities Team. Contact the ACT at 385-3443 to learn more about opportunities to improve ADA compliance at your business.
My favorite explanation from business owners defending why they don’t make accessibility improvements: “People with disabilities never come here.” This isn’t a chicken vs. egg scenario. You have to have a business people can access before they will be able to visit. As the baby boomers age, the buying power of people with disabilities is growing exponentially. Businesses should find it worth their while to make simple accessibility improvements and gain more customers.
Besides, it’s the law.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.