If a business doesn’t have accessible parking, ramps and signage, a person with a disability may have no choice but to drive away. That not only makes life more difficult for the individual in question, but also affects the business — it could lose customers and be liable to lawsuits.
A new campaign from the Independence Center, a nonprofit for people with disabilities, will provide business owners with free information about how to make their parking lots easier to navigate.
The Better Access is Better Business campaign is meant to help businesses comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, legislation passed in 1990 that sets certain requirements, such as designated parking, ramps and wide entrances to make facilities more accessible. The act has led to a number of “drive-by lawsuits” locally and nationally, in which an individual might sue a business for violating the requirements.
The problem with these lawsuits is that in many cases they don’t actually lead to change. Plaintiffs will choose to accept settlement money rather than continue the legal process, and the business owner may never fix the problem.
Patricia Yeager, the Independence Center’s CEO, said the Better Access is Better Business campaign offered a new approach.
“We thought, instead of drive-by lawsuits, why don’t we do drive-by ADA assistance?” she said.
With help from ADA Surveys and Plans, a consulting organization, The Independence Center plans to assess 100 parking lots in El Paso, Teller and Pueblo counties for ADA compliance this month. They’ll recommend changes for business owners for free.
“Part of our mission is to help not only people with disabilities and their families, but the community to thrive,” Yeager said. “And this is our way of helping the businesses in our community to thrive by adding new customers — people with disabilities.”
Yeager said oftentimes, business owners just aren’t sure what the requirements are or how to meet them.
“A building owner may have thought he got his certificate of occupancy and everything was good, but for a long long time, I mean years, there’s been no one really checking the parking lots for access,” Yeager said.
Interested business owners can contact Teri Ulrich at 719-357-6654 to have their business added to the survey list.