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Americans with Disabilities Act: Impact on the Hospitality Industry
News Source/Courtesy: linkedin.com

Courtesy: Hunter Dane | News Source: linkedin.com

The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. It’s original and intended use was to prohibit discrimination against individuals with disabilities. It has five different titles originally designed to cover all “public facets” of life.

As the brother of someone who has severe mental and physical disabilities I understand the importance of this legislation. Finding accessible accommodations can be difficult when you have a family member whose movement is limited by the use of a wheelchair or some other type of disability. With that being said, I find it frustrating that lawyers and a particular set of the “disabled” are taking advantage of the legal system.

This link leads to the official ADA: http://www.ada.gov/pubs/adastatute08.htm.

The section that follows is a brief summary of Title III and the last part of Title V concerning attorney’s fees. These are the sections that will be most prevalent in the discussion to follow.

Title III: Public Accommodations

Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities

This title prohibits privately owned places of public accommodation from discriminating against individuals with disabilities. This includes restaurants, hotels, golf course and everything in between. This title establishes a minimum set of standards for accessibility, alterations and new construction of buildings and facilities. Through this act, public accommodations are required to remove barriers to disabled access where it is easy to do so without much difficulty or expense. It also mandates that businesses must make “reasonable modifications” to their usual operations when serving the disabled community including taking the necessary steps to communicate effectively with customers who have vision, speech or hearing disabilities.

The title is enforced by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions

The last title contains different miscellaneous provisions pertaining to the ADA as a whole, its relationship to other laws, state immunity, its impact on insurance providers and their benefits, prohibition against retaliation and coercion, illegal use of drugs and attorney’s fees. It also contains a list of different conditions that are not considered disabilities.

In South Florida during 2013, there were a total of 700 disabled-access suits brought against different private business owners. These were all filed under Title III of the ADA over accessibility issues such as wheelchair ramps being too high, paper towel holders that are too steep, the absence of pool lifts, lack of accessible entrance, inaccessible bathrooms that do not have a stall for a wheelchair and a myriad of other issues. While these issues can and do affect legitimate people within the disabled population, there is another factor at play here.

Over two thirds of these 700 cases were brought on by the same five attorneys representing only a handful of plaintiffs. In other words, the people being “affected” by this ADA discrimination were each responsible for filing 50 to as many as 200 cases a year against different establishments. Fast forward to 2014 and the number of disabled-access suits (Title III of the ADA) skyrocketed to over 1,500 different cases in Florida. Can you guess who is filing all of the paperwork? It is the same plaintiffs and the same lawyers from 2013. I may risk sounding apathetic with the following statement but that seems like a lot of work and a lot of driving for someone experiencing physically limiting disabilities. For those “disabled individuals” filing upwards of 200 cases a year that means traveling to at least 5-10 businesses a day in search of that “money maker” that isn’t compliant.

The real question we need to ask ourselves is this: “What is the motivation?” The ADA doesn’t allow for damages to be collected by the plaintiffs. This means that the only people truly profiting from these cases are the attorneys. Each one of these cases brings in an average of $5,000 - $12,000 worth of settlement fees. Most businesses can see the financial risk of having to pay two sets of attorneys (in the event they want to fight it) which motivates them to settle quickly. Once those settlement checks clear however, there are no policies in place to make sure that the promised improvements have been made. In fact, over 80% of these businesses never even make the changes at all, or to the extent that is required. So, none of the lawyers, plaintiffs or the Department of Justice follow up with the cited businesses to make sure that these accessibility issues have been fixed. This simple fact tells me one thing. They do not care. The majority of these cases were not filed to “right wrongs”. They were filed to buy these lawyers’ million dollar mansions and fancy sports cars all under the guise that they are advocating for people with disabilities.

Let’s dive into a more specific case that hits a little closer to home. There is a man in Florida named Howard Cohan who uses a wheelchair for mobility. Howard suffers from a disability called spinal stenosis.

He filed 529 different ADA lawsuits in 2014. In dollars, assuming an $8,000 average settlement, this amounts to $4,232,000 that went to his lawyer. Let us further assume that Howard has to visit 8 different businesses in order to find 1 that is incompliant with the ADA. This means he had to visit over 4,200 different businesses in 2014 to achieve his final number of 529 lawsuits. He has been the plaintiff in cases located as far north as Jacksonville and as far south as Miami. That is a lot of driving, especially for someone in a wheelchair suffering from spinal stenosis. That is also a lot of money he has invested between lodging, food, gasoline and lost income from time spent “not working”.

For those of you who do not know, spinal stenosis is a disability most common in men and women over 50 years of age. It has a long list of causes including arthritis, aging, injuries and some inherited conditions among other things… Some of the symptoms of spinal stenosis include: Pain in the neck or back, numbness, weakness, cramping or pain in the arms or legs, pain going down the leg, foot problems, loss of control of the bowel of bladder, problems having sex, pain, weakness, or loss of feeling in one or both legs.

As someone who has experienced these difficult situations with my brother, my family has never thought to sue a business owner for lack of accessibility. We have had the adult conversation with them regarding the lack of accessibility and/or figured out a way to make it work. I have literally lifted my 120 pound brother up staircases while my mother dragged his clunky wheelchair behind me to meet me at the top. We figured it out. In most cases after speaking with the business owner we have found that they have been nothing but accommodating to our needs. If they weren’t, we found another place to take our business.

These lawsuits represent the saddening culture of our country. We are in a downward spiral, the epicenter of which revolves around the newfound ideal that that nobody needs to work anymore. People want to get rich without having to put in any actual work. They are using our legal system to find profitable loopholes that are only worsened by a two party legislative system that cannot seem to get anything done. Not only are we as taxpayers paying for these types of people… we encourage their behavior by instituting so many different rules and regulations that nobody can tell the difference between up and down.

What ever happened to keeping things simple? Instead of having so many rules, why can’t we just solve problems as they arise? I am all about being proactive but we live in a country where we try to fix things that aren’t broken. Let’s let it fall apart and build it back up. After all. everyone loves a comeback story…

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