Making Life Accessible

Disability rights activists didn't waste any time. Within hours after the "public accommodations" provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect on January 26, they made it known that they will not put up with public property owners who continue to deny them proper access to all goods and services.

Protests took place around the country at public sites, including the Empire State Building in New York, where there is inadequate access to persons with disabilities. The Justice Department is now required by law to investigate such complaints, and can impose stiff fines (ranging from $50,000 to $100,000). But the department has reportedly appropriated little money for compliance.

Employers with 25 or more employees have until July 26 to provide "reasonable accommodation" to individuals with disabilities, including modifying equipment and restructuring jobs, before they are held liable by law. (Those with fewer than 25 employees have until July 26, 1994.)

Some disability activists fear that businesses may take advantage of what they see as a loophole in the employment provisions of the ADA--namely, that employers need not provide accommodations that impose an "undue hardship" on business operations.

A recent survey of nearly 100 businesses by a New Jersey-based consulting firm found that most companies have yet to take steps to comply with the new law. Of the 91 businesses that responded to the random survey, only one-third said they had begun to make the necessary changes, while half said they would do so this year.

Other disability advocates, however, say that businesses are generally making a good-faith effort to learn about the new law, and appear ready to comply with the law. "Most businesses want to be in partnership with Americans with disabilities," stated a recent report by the United Cerebral Palsy Association.

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Sojourners Magazine April 1992
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