Access Requirements for the Disabled

What is the Law?

The ADA has provisions relating to ‘private entities'. This is the law relating to public accommodations as it pertains to any entity that is not state or government owned. In essence it provides requirements relating to access to any building or space which allows entry to members of the public. This law doesn't cover private houses or apartments unless there is part of it that is accessed by the public, for example, a chiropodist practising from home. Similarly ‘private clubs' are, in many cases, not covered.

It is unlawful for a private entity to refuse entry to or make it difficult for a disabled person to enter a public place, unless that person causes a direct threat to others. It is also unlawful to deny someone, on the grounds of their disability or someone associated with a disabled person, goods or services. Service pets (guide dogs etc) must be allowed access. In addition, there is a requirement to offer equal benefits and integrated services as well as text telephone, TV decoders, sign language interpreters, Braille, audio devices and headsets. However, there are limits: if the allowances or alternations made to accommodate disabled people fundamentally change the nature of the service provided, there is no requirement to change it.

What About New Buildings?

The ADA established guidelines for new and remodeled buildings, which are called the ‘ADAAG' or ADA Accessibility Guidelines. All new buildings which are going to be open to the public, such as hotels, restaurants, offices, stations, stores, theaters or other buildings must be accessible to disabled people. This doesn't mean there should be disabled access to all areas of the building, but that disabled people should be able to access certain elements – such as parking spaces, elevators (in some buildings) and drinking fountains.

Filing a Lawsuit for Discrimination

If there is a likelihood that the construction of a building will not adhere to the requirements under ADA, and will therefore discriminate against the disabled, it is possible to sue before the discrimination occurs. Essentially, you just need to have a reasonable belief that you are about to be discriminated against. This in turn means that a private entity will have the opportunity to remedy the breach and make the relevant amendments to the construction plans during the building process. If part of a public accommodation is being renovated, that part must adhere to the law under the ADAAG as much as possible.

Organizations that host examinations and courses, whether secondary or postsecondary or for trade or professional purposes, must ensure accessibility to disabled people. This applies not only in terms of the actual location of the building, but also in relation to access to the location of the class or examination room.