Slip and fall lawsuits are not the only thing property owners and facility managers must concern themselves with in 2014. According to reports issued by Facilitiesnet.com, there has been a rise in alleged violations against the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), each of which carries the cost of $5,000 or more.
First created in 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act is a landmark piece of legislation that addresses several key elements of workplace accessibility and inclusion. Specifically, the Act is known for opening the doors to millions of Americans with disabilities by prohibiting employers from practicing discriminatory hiring policies. According to the Act, forms of prohibited discrimination include those against mental and physical abilities, race, religion, national origin, and gender. The Act is also known for defining ‘disability’ as “…a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.”
For business owners, compliance with the ADA must occur both internally and externally. Internally, employers must practice fairness when hiring while also taking reasonable measures to promote inclusion and accessibility within the workplace. Externally, businesses must take reasonable measures to ensure public facilities are accessible and safe for all individuals, including those who may depend on wheelchairs, canes, braces, and other mobility devices.
3 Tips for Preventing ADA Lawsuits
1. Identify Barriers
“Barriers” are aspects of the workplace or facility that impede accessibility for individuals with a disability. Sometimes, barriers can be physical, such as a stairway that does not also have a wheelchair ramp. Other times, barriers can be cultural, such as a department in which employees do not know how to respectfully communicate with employees with disabilities. Care must be taken to identify all barriers prior to moving on to #2 below.
2. Remove Barriers
According to the ADA, barriers to accessibility must be removed in a way that is “easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.” This is where many organizations and property owners encounter trouble. In some situations, full removal of the barrier is not easy and very costly. In such situations, businesses must search for easier, more affordable, and more reasonable ways to improve accessibility. If such an approach exists that can be carried out without much difficulty, businesses are required by law to put that plan into action. Failure to do so can result in fines, as well as accidents and litigation.
3. Promote Awareness for ADA Compliance
Next, ADA awareness should be promoted at all levels of the organization. From top-to-bottom and across all departments, every member of the organization should know what the ADA is, and how the organization is actively achieving compliance. Promoting awareness is something that an ADA Coordinator is in a prime condition to do (see above). A few ideas on how organizations can proactively promote awareness for accessibility and inclusion are:
- Create organizational materials that provide an ADA overview and make the business’s ADA Coordinator available for contact.
- Consider alternate formats when creating and distributing materials among employees. This could include written materials that are also available in Braille, or it might require the addition of Closed Captioning to instructional/training videos.
- Evaluate the accessibility of the company website and social media pages.
- Give thoughtful consideration to the power of words. For example, disabled person is an offensive and callous way to refer to a person with a disability. The former implies that the person is incapacitated by a disability; the latter implies the person has a disability of some kind. Take time to understand the difference, and stay conscious of how confusing or misusing such language can be hurtful.
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