ArLyne's Diamonds

A running commentary of ideas

Monday, January 18, 2016

More Flexible ADA Approach Needed for Businesses

The ADA requires employers to consider being more flexible with the application of their policies as a reasonable accommodation. It also asks employees to be flexible when they request accommodations and employers select an equivalent alternative. Why then is there so little flexibility in the application of the ADA’s access requirements when their rigid application often makes little sense?

I want to make a plea for a more flexible approach. Let me start by telling you a story.

Some years ago Diamond Associates’ landlord moved its offices from a large one-story building to a three-story facility. One of the key administrative people, let’s call her Kate, was severely disabled and needed to use a wheelchair all the time.

When the landlord moved its staff to administrative offices on the third floor of a new building so the first floor could be available for conference rooms, Kate no longer was working on the ground floor. Ordinarily, this would not pose a problem since there was an elevator. However, in an emergency other arrangements would need to be made.

To the credit of this organization, they made a superb plan. They designated four different people to be responsible for transporting Kate and her chair down the stairs in case of an emergency. Each of these four strong men worked in different areas of the building so the chances were that at least one, if not more, would arrive quickly to come to Kate’s aid. This was an excellent – and flexible – solution to a potential need.

If she had demanded a more rigid solution, she probably would have consulted an attorney and there would have been a demand for the administrative offices to be on the first floor only. Had that happened, this organization could not have created the conference rooms they made available to nonprofit organizations at no charge. Kate’s flexibility and that of her employer made it possible to have a creative solution that ultimately benefited many people.

Let me contrast that with what happens with disabled designated parking spots here in California. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but here we have a great many designated disabled spots that are NEVER fully occupied. There seem to be far more spots than need for them. Anyone not showing a special license plate or sticker is ticketed if they park in any of these spots – even if there are a dozen or more designated spots not being used.

Although I am not a scofflaw and do respect the needs of others, I recently needed to park in a disabled-designated spot. Because of it, I received a parking ticket, which I do not believe I deserved. It made me think about this issue of flexible versus rigid approaches.

Here’s what happened. I was attending a two-day conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center. On the second day of the conference, I arrived late and could not find a regular parking space in the nearby lots. I would have had to walk an extra two city blocks, which I was reluctant to do since I had injured my knee the day before. However, there were at least a dozen unused disabled-designated spots.

My getting a ticket, with all those empty spots illustrates to me the pointlessness of an unthinking, automatic application of the ADA’s access requirements.

Putting aside for the moment what is prudent for an organization to do to stay out of hot water in their ADA compliance activities, it seems to me that overly rigid restrictions about usage serves to alienate people, rather than encourage their cooperation. I’d love for us to find a way to make these special spots available to those who truly need them – but also for the nondisabled to use some of them when they all are otherwise empty.

Was the ADA really intended to promote the ill will that naturally arises from the rigid enforcement of this access requirement? I, for one, firmly believe it was not, and that more flexibility should be afforded to businesses and public entities with limited resources and facilities to best serve all their customers.

My column is designed to make people rethink their attitudes and views about the issues related to the ADA. Don’t expect me to be compliant to any side of the issue! 


Post a Comment

<< Home