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ADA compliance is a specialty for business

By: Art Garcia Telegraph Correspondent
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Being proactive in complying with the federal and California versions of the Americans with Disability Act saves time, money and other headaches, such as lawsuits, for businesses small and large. But how does a business or property owner keep up with the frequently changing government guidelines? One way is to sign up with an ADA code compliance firm, such as ADA Compliance Consultants Inc., in business in Folsom since 2004. Because there are variations between state and federal laws, you can be in compliance locally and still be sued for noncompliance with federal law — or the other way around. “We will typically survey or inspect the exterior and interior of a property for compliance with both the federal and state accessibility codes,” said Ken Mitchell, general manager and vice president of operations at ADA Compliance Consultants. “These can be anything from appropriate signage to the striping of an accessible parking stall.” The codes are written with very specific and technical requirements. “We have to be familiar with them, their wording and regulations to advise clients on exactly how the access needs to look, the height, the installation, the striping on the asphalt for the accessible stall and the access aisle next to it, the handicapped symbol on the ground. That’s all very specific,” he said. If that’s not enough to be concerned about, business and property owners must guard against what Mitchell, 43, calls “professional plaintiffs,” individuals and organizations, including some law practices, that know the codes well and will claim they were denied access due to an architectural barrier. “They can find deficiencies, minute as they may be, and start a problem,” he said. “There are quite a few of these plaintiffs in California who are very active. I would say maybe 5 percent of the business we do is derived from this kind of action,” he added. “These are mostly people who are being proactive, while the business and property owners are reactive.” If you are a tenant in a commercial building, you might have certain potential ADA liabilities, as well as the owner, who is responsible for the exterior compliance. In most case, the owner of a business is responsible for interior compliance. The ADA basically is federal law, but there are California requirements on top of it. “There’s some duplication, some inconsistencies, some gaps,” Mitchell noted. “There’s a lot to navigate through to make sure you’re compliant with both sets of codes.” Don’t the federal regulations cover the issue? “One would think, but California has been very good at being progressive, if you will. The state has had certain accessibility codes prior even to federal codes,” he said. “Over the years, the state has changed and modified many of its codes, has not recognized a lot of the federal codes that were put in place in 1990 and has added some of its own that are not applicable to the federal code so we have a mixed bag. California codes “very much so” are tougher than most other states, said Mitchell. There are new codes, both federal and state. Federal ADA codes are changing “quite a bit in certain areas,” he said, “and you still have to compare those to the California codes to make sure you’re covered.” Can business or property owners safely do this on their own? “Some have attempted it and it ends up being more of a headache or more complicated than if they had hired a professional,” he said. “Even just focusing on accessibility —and that’s all we do here — takes every bit of eight hours a day, five days a week, 12 months of the year to stay on top of all the regulations. For the lay person to try it is probably not a wise thing.” * * * IN THE KNOW Company: ADA Compliance Consultants, Inc. Location: Folsom Info: (916) 983-3816, ada-pros.com