After a rash of American Disabilities Act lawsuits stung San Joaquin business owners with hefty fines and even caused some businesses to close their doors in recent months, the Stanislaus Business Alliance is taking proactive measures to ensure local businesses can protect themselves from unwanted lawsuits.
“Quite honestly, there haven’t been a lot of cases in Stanislaus County yet but we’re not waiting for that to happen. We are trying to get ahead of the curve,” said David White, CEO of the Stanislaus Business Alliance.
After several businesses were cited for noncompliance in the neighboring county, Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien brought the issue to White’s attention with the aim of not only bringing the potential problem to light for Stanislaus County businesses but to arm them with necessary information to combat potential lawsuits.
The Alliance is a public-private partnership that cultivates economic and workforce development efforts in the county and last month it published an ADA Basics for Business primer. Created in partnership with the local city Chambers of Commerce, Assembly members, congressmen, and senators, the information allows local businesses to familiarize themselves with the potential claims they could face if their business is not already ADA compliant.
“I thought it was appropriate for the Alliance and our local chambers to be aware and learn about the ADA laws and ways to become compliant,” said O’Brien. “The ultimate goal is to make sure that these businesses are accessible to people with disabilities. It’s more of an educational tool than anything else.”
The ADA Basics for Business outlines the history of cases that have struck the state prior to spreading to the Central Valley, as well as includes examples of various suits and claims that have targeted mainly small to medium sized businesses.
“These sorts of lawsuits can be very disruptive to companies, especially those that are small and possibly operate on small margins,” explained White, noting that businesses operated by individuals of diverse ethnic backgrounds where English is not the primary language are often easy targets.
According to the Alliance’s primer, the best defense is a good offense and businesses can prevent the chance of being served by taking steps to become ADA compliant. According to the California Commission on Disability Access, between the months of January and March this year the top 10 demand letters and claims being issued to businesses included noncompliant parking lot issues such as a lack of loading zones or van access; ramps that are not compliant; access issues to the public facility or bathrooms; as well as the height of surfaces in the building that are not compliant.
Local business owners will have the opportunity to find out more information in upcoming months as the Stanislaus Business Alliance will follow up on its publication of the ADA Basics for Business by hosting multiple workshops in early to mid-September.
“We are trying to canvas the areas as best we can,” said White.