IT HAS BEEN MORE THAN a year since the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is not concise or easy to understand, and the past year has brought forward more misinformation and confusion about the new law than clarification.
Many so-called ADA compliance experts, such as general contractors, architects, and attorneys, have marketed advice packaged with their regular services. Reliable, unbiased, usable information is hard to get.
Not all organizations are affected in the same way. The law covers so many topics that it is wise for an individual to understand how his or her own organization is affected by the ADA.
ADA police. There is no such thing as an ADA police department. Enforcement is not being carried out as it was by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), where compliance inspections were routinely conducted. This does not mean that noncompliance will be tolerated. The regulating government agencies--the Department of Justice (DOJ), the Architectural Transportation Compliance Board (ATCB), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)--are responsible for enforcing various parts of the ADA.
The federal regulatory agencies will not be taking a passive role. Complaints have been received from individuals in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia and relate to all types of public accommodations. Approximately 70 percent of the complaints allege failure to remove barriers in existing facilities. About 20 percent concern discriminatory policies, and 10 percent relate to lack of auxiliary aids, usually interpreters for the hearing impaired. The DOJ hopes to complete an evaluation of the cases at the end of the year.
The Clinton administration has demonstrated its interest in civil rights legislation, and the ADA is one of the issues on which it intends to focus. One government organization that is gearing up for action is the EEOC. It has gone on a hiring campaign to add 250 investigators to its staff to meet the anticipated increase of complaints. It is estimated that the EEOC will receive an additional 12,000 cases per year.
Corporate response. To comply with the ADA, a corporation must understand what is meant by the law's two most significant phrases, "readily achievable" and "reasonable accommodation." By taking the time to research these concepts, a corporation will realize low-cost and no-cost ways in which ADA compliance may be achieved.
Many major corporations, such as Nordstrom Inc., Anheuser-Busch Company, Inc., United Airlines, and K-Mart Corporation are not waiting to be forced into compliance and are currently researching these issues. These corporations are also featuring people with disabilities in advertisements and are receiving the benefits of positive media attention.
The lodging industry is emerging as one of the leaders in ADA compliance efforts. For example, Hyatt Hotels Corporation announced immediate and long-term changes to make its hotels barrier-free. …