Have you ever gone out to a restaurant only to discover there is no accessible parking? Or worse yet, you get into the restaurant and need to use the facilities only to discover the restrooms are not wheelchair accessible? Even 27 years after the ADA was enacted, many establishments are not in compliance with the accessibility laws. But you need not feel helpless or discouraged. There is a remedy and it is not as difficult as you may think. In fact it can be quite easy.
The first thing I do when encountering barriers, is to discuss the issues with the owner or manager, if possible. I have found most owners are receptive to modifying their businesses. However, if I return and no changes have been made or I feel like they are taking too long, I file an ADA claim. So far I’ve had a 100 percent success rate. But be forewarned, it usually takes several months before the Department of Justice even reads your claim. Then it can take months or over a year for them to get the establishment up to code. However, it is a wonderful feeling to get a letter from the DOJ advising you that your claim has been resolved and changes are forthcoming. Most times, the DOJ works with the establishment to not only correct the violations addressed in your claim, but also to correct other ADA violations. Less than a few hours of work on your part results in a more accessible world for hundreds of thousands of people.
My First ADA Complaint
The first ADA complaint I ever filed was against a restaurant in New York State. My elderly aunt lived in a small town there and our family wanted to have lunch with her at the restaurant within walking distance to her apartment. My aunt called to make the reservation. The hostess said it was fine for me to come as I used a wheelchair but my brother-in-law could not because he used a scooter. The restaurant had a firm policy prohibiting scooters. I told her that couldn’t be right. She told me they said they had special permission. We should just find somewhere else to eat.
I called the restaurant and asked to speak to the manager. He told me the same thing. I could come but not my brother-in-law. I told him that they were discriminating against people who used scooters and they were violating the American with Disabilities Act. His defense was the same thing my aunt was told. They had special permission. I replied, “No, you do not.”
Channeling my anger and frustration, I went onto the Justice Department’s website and filed a complaint. Six months later the Justice Department contacted me. The assistant attorney general for New York State said they received my complaint and were working on it. Several months later I received a letter from him stating that my claim had be resolved in my favor. The restaurant now allowed people who used scooters. The letter also stated that during their investigation the DOJ noticed a few other violations. In addition to changing the restaurant’s policy regarding scooters, the restaurant improved staff education, rearranged the seating, updated their bathrooms and improved the accessible entrance.
A few weeks after I received the letter, my family met at the restaurant to share an amazing meal. Because complainants remain anonymous, the servers had no idea who we were. While my aunt lived up the street, the restaurant became the regular place we would meet our aunt. Every time I went there I had the biggest smile inside and out.
Filing an ADA Complaint is Easy
The form is very simple to complete.
Another way to file the claim is to contact directly the assistant attorney general assigned to your state. When I filed my complaint for a Connecticut establishment, the assistant attorney general told me to contact her office in the future if I had another claim. She said it would be processed much faster than if I went through the main DOJ website.
I did contact her office directly when I had a subsequent claim. Her assistant took the information over the telephone and filed the claim for me. It was pretty easy. That claim is still under investigation.
If we don’t care enough to take the time to protect our disability rights, who will? Nothing takes away the sting of disability discrimination. Yet, there is a great satisfaction in doing something about it. Imagine if we all started now filing legitimate ADA claims how different our world would be in the years to come. Go for it.
A lawyer based in Connecticut, Mary Pierson Keating’s practice areas include estate planning and real estate. She has always been a strong advocate for people with disabilities, and has helped to make the world more barrier free.