“I am calling on America to meet a great challenge: achieving the full acceptance and participation in all aspects of life for our 43 million citizens with disabilities. The signing into law by President Bush of the Americans with Disabilities Act has strengthened this commitment. It is an imperative for action.”
Vice Chairman, National Organization on Disability Former Presidential Press Secretary for Ronald Reagan
AN OVERVIEW OF THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
Your opportunity to help facilitate 43 million fellow Americans into the mainstream is available now. The perception of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) can be either positive or negative depending on your interpretation and acceptance.
The ADA was designed and implemented to allow people with disabilities to maximize their participation in the work force and to enjoy the benefits, services and civil rights promised to all. About 17% of our population suffers discrimination socially or economically due to a disability. There is an 80% chance that you will experience a temporary or permanent disability.
The inevitable process of aging will almost assure that statistical projection.
A major problem is that we designed and built-in barriers that now must be removed. It is unfortunate that we were not more conscious of the problem. Now we have the government mandating requirements with externally imposed time frames for compliance.
President Bush signed into law the Americans With Disabilities Act, Public Law 101-336, July 26, 1990, “to establish a clear and comrehensive prohibition of discrimination on the basis of disability.” It is that simple.
The ADA statutory deadlines that will affect aquatic facilities and businesses most will be: Title I – Employment, Title II – Public Services, and Title III – Public Accommodations and Services Operated By Private Entities.
Title – Employers may not discriminate against an individual with a disability in job application procedures, and in hiring, training, advancement, compensation, firing, and other conditions of employment activities. All employers with 25 or more employees must comply, effective July 26, 1992. All employers with 15-24 employees must comply by July 26, 1994.
Employers can ask about one’s ability to perform a specific job, but cannot inquire if someone has a disability, be it the individual, a significant other, a relative or associate of the applicant.
Employers may reject applicants or fire employees who pose a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals in the workplace. No individuals are exempt from drug testing for illegal use of drugs.
Employers will need to provide reasonable accommodations for individuals with disabilities, as long as it does not cause “undue hardship” on the employers business. This may include job restructuring or reorganizing, and modification of equipment and facilities.
Title II – Public Services affects all state or local government departments, agencies, services and programs and requires that they not discriminate against qualified individuals with disabilities. The term “qualified individual with a disability” means an individual with a disability who meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or participation in programs or activities provided by a public entity.
The ADA emphasizes that an individual shall not be “excluded from participation in or denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by any such entity.” In reference to pools and spas it implies that all public, municipal and school aquatic facilities must provide access from the street directly into the pool using “auxiliary aids and services.”
Title III – Public Accommodations covers private entities that affect commerce, and that impacts almost everyone not previously covered. A partial list of those entities will include: Retail stores, health spas, public swimming pools, to include water and theme parks, amusement and recreation facilities, hotels, motels, apartments, condominiums, townhouses, and community associations. Those not affected will be private clubs and religious organizations. All of these, and more, became subject to the ADA requirements January 26, 1992. The key word there is “BECAME,” as in “NOW.”
Again, the major issue is public accommodations may not discriminate, but rather must augment existing facilities with “auxiliary aids, removal of physical barriers, and accessible alterations.” These must not cause an “undue burden,” must be “reasonable accommodations,” and must be “readily achievable.” Public entities must ensure that newly constructed buildings and facilities are free of architectural and communications barriers that restrict access or use by individuals with disabilities.
There are priorities to implementation of the ADA. First, you must provide access to your location from the street by having accessible parking, curb cuts, ramps, and widened entrances. Second, you must ensure the disabled access to the goods and services offered. This may require rearranging or altering the “path of travel,” including adequate doors and ramps, installing Braille signs and visual alarms. Third, you must provide access to restrooms which may require widening toilet stalls, installing grab rails and putting up Braille signage. Toilets. sinks and drinking fountains may also require alterations. Finally, “a public accommodation should take any other measures necessary to provide access to the goods. services. facilities. privileges. advantages. or accommodations of a place of public accommodation.”
To assist you with all this. the Internal Revenue Code has come to your aid. They will allow deductions up to $15.000 per year for expenses associated with the removal of qualified architectural and transportation barriers. Also. an eligible small business whose gross receipts do not exceed $1.000,000 or whose workforce does not consist of more than 30 full time workers may receive tax credits. Qualifying businesses may claim a credit of up to 50% of eligible access expenditures that exceed $250 but do not exceed $10,250.
You should check with your CPA or accountant to see if your state offers additional deductions. While you are checking see if they have other legislation in effect concerning the disabled. A number of states have drafted and passed their own regulations affecting access for the disabled which are in addition to the ADA requirements.
A few other suggestions and comments regarding the ADA:
• Don’t panic. There are necessary and legitimate reasons for this legislation which will benefit all. Imagine yourself a being disabled – you may more clearly see the benefits.
• Don’t recruit an army of architects and lawyers. Although they may be helpful in some instances, the majority of the situations will be handled with common sense, good faith and a show of intent. The Department of Justice does not want to drag people into court. They would rather see a willing compliance.
There are 43 million people out there that are capable of filing a complaint. This may lead to an investigation and compliance review by the Attorney General. The AG’s office has provided for alternative means of dispute resolution including settlement negotiations, conciliation, facilitation, mediation, fact-finding, mini-trials, and arbitration. Consider though, the time, expense and negative publicity, versus the positive effect. you can gain by helping rather than hindering.
In conclusion, review your job descriptions and job applications. Review and survey your facilities as if you were disabled. If you make the commitment, compliance will not be difficult. Now is the time to get started. Your positive attitude will help everyone benefit.
Curt Straub is President of Aquatic Consultants, Inc. He has been involved with the swimming pool industry for over 30 years, and was active for 27 years as a custom shotcrete builder. He may be contacted at (913) 362-3332.