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A good chunk of the Americans with Disabilities Act cases have nothing to do with tangible physical barriers. Often, it is simply a business's policies, practices, rules, or lack thereof, that leads to an ADA claim.
Many ADA claims can be easily avoided by general counsel or outside counsel reviewing a business's ADA policy compliance and ensuring proper employee training on those ADA policies. A recent lawsuit against a chain retailer involves an amputee that was left with no other option but to crawl out of a retail establishment due to an employee and manager's misunderstanding of store policy on use of the store's motorized wheelchair shopping carts.
Crawling Through Mud
The CEO of the corporation overseeing all the stores in the retail chain of the above case issued a public statement apologizing and explaining that the employees acted wrongly, partly blaming a misunderstanding of policy. However, there is a strong likelihood the statement was only issued because the video of the disabled man crawling or walking out of the store on his knees went viral online. The store faced quite a bit of backlash over that.
This case's facts are illuminating of the problem with employee training. The plaintiff was a regular shopper at the store. He would routinely shop there without his own wheelchair because the store had an electric one he could use, which is much more convenient than trying to load a wheelchair into a car. He would shop with his son, or another person, who would retrieve the store's chair, then bring it to him at the car. Then after shopping, his companion would return the chair after he was loaded into the car.
But on his last visit, a store employee refused to let him exit the store in the chair. The manager on duty supported the employee stating that store policy did not allow the store's motorized carts to leave the store. The man then asked what options he had.
Training ADA Compliance
Regardless of whether the company you work for serves the public, there is pretty much no way to get around ADA compliance. Whether it's related to employment, or public access and accommodations, avoiding compliance can not only cost you money in litigation, you could have to pay up in the face of a PR debacle. It's been the law for decades now, and with tax incentives for remedial access work, there's no excuse for non-compliance.
If you have an accessible business, and even ADA compliant policies, but don't have employees trained, and retrained annually, on those policies, you're courting disaster. Clearly a solution could have been reached in the example above that wouldn't have resulted in the embarrassment and discomfort of a disabled individual, and thus, no litigation. The companion could have brought the car around front, or a store employee could have escorted the shopper back to his car, and made an exception that one time. But that didn't happen because of a policy failure.
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