NEW YORK — Since the Americans with Disabilities Act—the ADA—was signed into law in 1990, it has served to protect the interests of the disabled who wish to perform everyday activities, including doing laundry at their local laundromat.
Someone who’s well acquainted with the ADA and its impact on small businesses is Eric M. Sarver, Esq. He’s a New York City employment law/labor law attorney with 23 years of experience, including 21 as the founder of his own firm.
For a time, he mainly represented and litigated for employees who claimed they were discriminated against due to their disability. In 2013, he shifted to representing businesses of all kinds, including laundromats and dry cleaners, helping them with compliance and best practices.
“In a nutshell, I would say that the ADA is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. That includes people going to work, and their employment,” he says. “It protects people in public and private places that are open to the general public: restaurants, bar, laundromats, hotels.”
There are two basic aspects of the ADA, according to Sarver. First is to not exclude, harass, or create unequal conditions in employment or of services given based on a person having a disability. The second has to do with providing reasonable accommodations for a person with disabilities so that a disabled person can basically enjoy the same rights and privileges that a non-disabled person can.
It’s commonplace to focus on potential barriers when building a new store or renovating an existing laundromat, but Sarver warns that an owner should be mindful of ADA requirements in all aspects of running their store, their day-to-day operation, well beyond that stage.
“Too often, I’ve seen business owners who hire the architect, construction folks who are very ADA-mindful and -compliant, and they follow the plan,” he says. “They build and design a disabled stall in the restroom, but then as the business takes on a life of its own and gets new equipment or has different machines coming in, often the business owner doesn’t realize that they’ve got to make sure that the day-to-day, being able to access the front desk, to make change or to be able to use the machines, has to be ADA-compliant. A business owner’s obligations under the ADA don’t stop when the building, the structure, is complete.”
Much attention is paid to entrances and exits to ensure they accommodate disabled patrons but some other areas in the laundry may not get the same treatment.
“In my experience as an employment law attorney, I’ve seen laundromats that have issues with the folding table not being wheelchair height. When you walk into a place, often you can just stand up and fold your laundry, but if you can’t reach that from a wheelchair, that can be problematic.
“I’ve also seen some challenges with restrooms. They have the door open wide enough for a handicapped or disabled stall but the paper towel dispenser is too high or a disabled person can’t get soap on their hands.
“There are washers and dryers that are too high, or machines stacked one on top of the other so that people can’t access them.”
Facility design is often done by someone who’s “thinking from an able-bodied perspective,” according to Sarver.
“A business owner should keep that in mind and perhaps consult with someone (experienced) in the field to make sure that all the things we take for granted are reachable and accessible by a disabled person,” he adds.
Editor’s note: Information in this article is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide specific advice or individual recommendations. Consult an attorney for advice regarding your particular situation.
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