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How to Take Action Against ADA Access Violations

Thirty years after the effective date of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on January 26, 1992, I didn’t expect to read about an accessibility nightmare. But that’s exactly what a Little Person wrote about her recent experience trying to order fast food from a McDonald’s self-serve kiosk. The menu graphics on the screen were too high for her to click on! And from there, this Facebook conversation expanded to stores’ out-of-reach point-of-sale terminals.

Commenters reported a store raising the height of all their terminals when it remodeled three years ago and, when asked to lower the terminals, other stores either refused or did nothing despite agreeing to look into it. The need for a store cashier to enter the order or read the information on the checkout screen clearly did not compensate for the loss of independent use of the equipment.

Instead of fuming about ongoing access denials and being unwilling to accept the status quo, group commenters shifted gears into problem-solving. Why accept what doesn’t need to be? Doesn’t the ADA mandate an accessible height for point-of-sale terminals? How do we find out the required height? Where do we get the documents to print and show store managers?

Being part of this conversation was just the nudge I needed. I had long planned to write about ADA enforcement procedures for public accommodations. And here right in front of me was a group motivated to take action. I provided them with the link to the ADA Standards Adopted by the U.S. Dept. of Justice (2010) and U.S. Dept. of Transportation (2006). Armed with this document the group now knows that an accessible terminal height is no more than 48 inches (ADAAG §§308.2 forward reach, 308.3 side reach, and 309.3 height of operable parts).

A suggestion to carry a tape measure to document the height of these inaccessible screens or terminals was followed by another question. Who do we contact after we measure? In other words, if operable parts on out-of-reach equipment violate the ADA by measuring more than 48 inches and stores refuse to comply, who has the authority to enforce the law?

The answer lies in ADA Title III regulations 28 CFR §§36.501 to 36.503 which gives authority to both the person subjected to disability discrimination and the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DOJ). The individual can either make an official complaint to the DOJ (see instructions here) or file a private lawsuit against the store. However, given the large volume of ADA complaints from people throughout the United States, a DOJ review can take up to three months. Alternatively, the DOJ can investigate a complaint, intervene in an individual’s private lawsuit in cases of general public importance, or initiate a compliance review. Settlement negotiations are often used to resolve disputes. In appropriate cases, the United States Attorney General may file a lawsuit in federal court and obtain civil penalties of up to $55,000 for the first violation and $110,000 for any subsequent violation.

So are you ready to challenge the access violations that limit your independence?

To dig deeper, you can read the ADA Accessibility Standards and ADA Title III Regulations.

This story originally appeared on Angela Muir Van Etten’s blog.

Getty image by etorres69.

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