Americans with Disabilities Act and Your Massachusetts Business

New accessibility rules are taking effect under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and most stores, doctor’s offices, theaters, banks and other public places will be required to comply.

Our Belmont business attorneys advise Massachusetts business and property owners to ensure they are in compliance, and to document compliance as defense against an ADA claim. Those with disabilities have specific rights under the act; filing an American with Disabilities Act claim can improve access and force companies to comply with the law. 806340_high_sign_5.jpg

Enforcement of the widespread changes is scheduled to take effect March 2012.

-1 in 6 parking spaces must be van accessible; the existing requirement is 1 in 8.

-Businesses and property owners must accommodate mobility devices other than wheelchairs.

-All shelves, fire alarms and other reachable objects must be no more than 48 inches high.

-Other guidelines are in place for hotels, theaters, swimming pools and other specialized facilities. The rules actually took effect March 15, 2011 but compliance enforcement won’t begin until March 2012. The rules impact some 7 million public and private places.

Documenting property improvements and compliance is an important step in protecting a business. Nor should a business owner attempt to discern the legal requirements on their own. Getting legal advice on the front end can help ensure your business is appropriately accommodating to those with disabilities, while protecting yourself against a costly lawsuit.

While all new structures must comply — existing structures must comply to the extent that it’s “readily achievable.” The law defines readily achievable as easily accomplished and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense. Again, seeking legal advice can help ensure you are not going to needless expense while ensuring that your business or properly is not out of compliance with ADA requirements.

Repainting parking spots may be readily achievable. Other compliance issues may be far more complex and expensive. Prioritizing can help businesses achieve compliance to the extent they are required to do so. The list should begin with the first thing visitors encounter when visiting the property, typically the parking lot. Start at the curb and work your way through the building.

The “readily achievable” language could well lead to an increase in lawsuits. Proper documentation will go a long way toward protecting your business in the event ADA compliance is called into question. And the risk of lawsuits could be most acute among small businesses. New construction will be in compliance and large corporations will likely have less trouble getting into compliance.

However, for a small business, the financial outlay required to comply could be crippling. And the expense of an ADA lawsuit could be equally devastating. Seeking qualified legal advice when making compliance decisions can help protect you and your business for years to come.

A Boston business law firm, The Brown Law Firm, LLC, has offices in Belmont and Boston. For a free and confidential consultation, call Attorney Graeme Brown at 617-489-0817 or contact us through this website.

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