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Are You Ready for the Americans with Disabilities Act?

February 10, 2016

By Bruce L. Adelson Esq

As a federal law compliance expert and former senior federal civil rights official, I am asked questions everyday about all kinds of laws, rules, and requirements.  Overwhelmingly, the law I encounter most often is the ADA.

New lawsuits pop up constantly.  News from my former U.S. Department of Justice colleagues about their latest disability discrimination enforcement case floods my in-box.

Now, with increasing frequency, ADA compliance attention is focusing on restaurants.  As reported in the February 4, 2016 edition of the Phoenix Business Journal:  “Scores of hotels, motels, restaurants and bars in Arizona, Southern California and other U.S. regions are facing hundreds of lawsuits related to alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act….

There also are scores of ADA compliance cases being filed in California, Florida, Texas [,] and New York.  In some instances, businesses are unaware they might not have the ramps, lifts and the required accessibility under the federal law.”

Late last year, the Department of Justice announced a major investigation of Chicago area restaurants’ ADA compliance.  According to the U.S. Attorney in Chicago, “Federal investigators may … conduct on-site inspections of the facilities… to evaluate compliance with ADA regulations….

Non-compliant owners and operators will initially have the option to voluntarily agree to upgrade their facilities to meet ADA requirements.  However, owners and operators found to be engaging in a pattern or practice of discrimination – and those who fail to enter voluntary compliance agreements – may face a civil lawsuit and be subject to monetary penalties and civil fines.”

How should a restaurant owner respond?  As we inform businesses, there are myriad requirements for a restaurant to be legally “accessible” to disabled people and comply with the ADA.


For example:

  • Having an accessible entrance that is wide enough to meet ADA requirements and accommodate a customer in a wheelchair
  • Keeping a barrier-free path (an “accessible route”) of at least 36 inches throughout your public space
  • Having accessible restrooms that comply with the ADA’s structural requirements
  • Ensuring that staff are effectively trained to interact in legally appropriate ways with disabled customers requesting ADA accommodations
  • Adding closed captioning to your television screens
  • Making sure that your restaurant is prepared for ADA required service animals.

In addition, there is an ongoing federal lawsuit against a national chain restaurant in California where the court will decide whether Celiac Disease is an ADA disability requiring accommodation.

What to do?  Our recommendation is having an expert assess a restaurant’s physical space to evaluate ADA issues and recommend a remediation plan as needed.  Courts and the Department of Justice take a much more favorable view of businesses that have identified concerns and are actively engaged in resolving them than businesses that go in the opposite direction.

Finally, a third step in addressing ADA requirements and minimizing risk & expense amidst the new wave of legal entanglements is staff training.  I close by quoting some words of wisdom from my Department of Justice friends:

“A critical and often overlooked component of ensuring success is comprehensive and ongoing staff training.  Covered entities may have established good policies, but if front line staff are not aware of them or do not know how to implement them, problems can arise.”

Bruce L. Adelson Esq, is CEO of Federal Compliance Consulting LLC, Potomac, MD, and nationally recognized for his expertise.  Bruce is a former U.S Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorney.  During his Justice career, Bruce had national law and policy enforcement responsibility.  Federal Compliance Consulting LLC provides consultation and training services across the United States and internationally.