The U.S. Census Bureau reports that around 6 million people in California have a disability. California is one of the most ADA compliant states in the U.S., and also the one where the law is enforced more strictly, in addition to state Building Codes with their own standards of accessibility . The California Commission on Disability Access (CCDA) oversees compliance with California ADA and state accessibility standards, providing resources to help both people with disabilities and businesses required to be accessible to them.
Under state regulations, any ADA violation is considered a civil rights violation subject to a minimum penalty of $4,000, plus attorney's fees. If they file a lawsuit, the person with a disability who was denied access because of an ADA or California Building Code violation is entitled to receive $4,000 in statutory damages. Since the ADA was enacted in 1992, there have been more than 20,000 ADA-related lawsuits in California, costing state businesses around $20 million a year. There are lawyers who specialize in ADA-related issues. Obliviousness to the needs of people with disabilities in your facility may not only turn customers away, but it can also be very costly for you.
California Building Codes:
In addition to taking the ADA’s standards seriously, California’s state government has set up its own codes and standards. Most recently, the laws have been updated in 2016, designed to take effect January 1, 2017. These standards go into effect with new buildings, or with major upgrades. These requirements are often more stringent than that national ADA standards, so need to also be taken into consideration. In order of importance, the top priorities for the accessibility section of the building codes are:
- An accessible entrance
- Accessible route to the property
- At least one accessible restroom available to each gender
- Accessible telephones
- Accessible drinking fountains
- Accessible parking and storage
Most Common Problems:
According to records kept by the CCDA, these are the issues that incur the most complaints for inaccessibility:
- Parking - parking spaces that are not properly sized for a wheelchair to get out of, the lack of a sign designating that a space is reserved for someone with a disability, or an inadequate number of accessible spaces.
- Accessible Route and Entry - the path from the parking lot to the business is inaccessible, a lack of adequate curb ramps or entrance ramps, and a problem with entry doors.
- Access Within Public Facility - You should especially watch out for the heights of counters, tables, or other surfaces. Also make sure everything in the room is arranged so there is a clear path of access. Toilets and sinks in the restroom are another big area of concern.
If you are a business owner, you may be rightfully concerned about the unanticipated cost from penalties and lawsuits from an unintentional oversight from the ADA or state building codes. Fortunately, the law has made provisions to protect you. Senate Bill 1608 provides for a Certified Access Specialist (CASp) to inspect your property, ensuring that you are within code, and suggesting “readily achievable” solutions to changes that need to be made. Even if you are unable to make your property totally accessible immediately, establishing intent and a timetable with the CASp can provide important protection from lawsuits. Furthermore, changes you make to make a property more accessible may be subject to a tax credit of up to $5,000, and a tax deduction of up to $15,000 for your small business.
Booking an appointment with a CASp can make a huge difference in ensuring everything about your business conforms to these strictly enforced standards. Making a plan to fix these problems can help open up your space to everyone, and protect you from costly fines and lawsuits.