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Misconceptions with the Americans with Disabilities Act

January 31, 2009
By Lauren LeFebvre

When the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted in 1990, people with disabilities saw it as a victory, albeit a small one, it was still something.

Amazingly, some things were deemed exempt. I'll tell you point blank what was not and is not exempt: Any business that serves the public, no matter if it's a privately-owned business or a huge corporation.

There is one huge misconception that even I was guilty of. Businesses that existed right where they are and right as they are prior to the enactment of the ADA are not exempt. There is no "grandfather clause" with the ADA.

Article Photos

Members of the Tri-Lakes Center for Independence and the North Country Center for Independence traveled to Albany Monday to discuss disability issues with state leaders as part of the New York Association on Independent Living’s Legislative Day. From left, NCCI accessibility consultant John Farley, TLCIL Executive Director Lauren LeFebvre, Chelsea Scheefer, of NCCI youth transition, NCCI accessibility consultant Nathan Cox, NCCI systems advocate Robert Poulin, New York Senator Betty Little and NCCI volunteer Eleanor Murray. Missing from the photo, but also in attendance at Monday’s meeting was Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward.
(Photo courtesy of the Tri-Lakes Center for Independence)

Every business must be working toward becoming fully accessibility, as it is required by law. Think of it this way, state building code (surprise, surprise) includes ADA regulations. If you are just now surprised by that, someone "in the know" should have clued you in. That someone should not be me. The Tri-Lakes Center for Independent Living can only provide information and interpret the ADA, we cannot enforce it. That's for your local, county, state and federal officials to do.

As far as construction of a new business goes, that should be a no-brainer. Of course, the facility must meet ADA standards.

Another facility, pre-existing or not, that is not exempt is government buildings. Yes, even your old town hall is not exempt. That doesn't mean that all the doors have to be ripped out and replaced with automatic ones. It may just mean that you have to get a lighter weight door with a type of "knob" that can be opened with a closed fist. You know, like those lever looking ones. The closed fist thing is key - no doorknob is ADA compliant if it cannot be opened with a closed fist. It's really great when someone can explain it in terms that don't use measurements, right?

Also, the door issue does not pertain to every door. ADA requirements are that one entry door is fully accessible. That means the accessible door, with the accessible knob must not be where there is a sand pit leading to it, must be near the accessible parking space and, must not be at the located above even one step. The resounding sighs of "Duh, Lauren, we know that!" is killing me. Take a little stroll around the region, not just town halls and the like, and you'll find picture perfect, ADA-compliant entry doors located in the most inaccessible places.

Nice try.

Maybe you've been hearing a lot about inaccessible voting machines and the Help America Vote Act or maybe you've just landed on this planet. To make a really long and annoying story of classic bureaucratic poo-poo short, HAVA, which is a federal mandate, was passed a few years ago. HAVA requires voting machines to be fully accessible to ALL voters. That means everyone, including people who are blind, use wheelchairs, have limited use of their hands or whatever the disability may be, must be able to cast an independent, private ballot alone.

Before you start to freak on me, I was in the local government biz and dealt with election inspectors, poll workers, etc. I still hear secret murmurs repeating the phrase "Absentee Ballot." Still not private, still not independent, not to mention discriminatory. That's an issue for another day.

The issue here is that since the ADA is nearly 18 years old, the federal government assumes the actual polling places, the building you go enter to cast your ballot, is already accessible. The fed's must also be assuming Elvis is still alive. Granted, some polling places are accessible and ready to go but a good portion are not.

I'm going to have to wrap this up pretty quickly now with no parting thoughts or nice segues because it's slowing starting to morph into the state's apparent unwillingness to comply with HAVA regulations and I promised you in November that I would not write about that again - at least for a while.

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis has left the building.



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