Local Businesses' ADA Compliance Questioned

Texas Civil Rights Project launches barrage of lawsuits against businesses it alleges are failing to comply with ADA statutes requiring equal access for persons with disabilities

The Texas Civil Rights Project marked the 17th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act last week by launching a barrage of lawsuits against businesses across the state, including Austin landmarks Stubb's Bar-B-Q and Iron Works Barbecue. The lawsuits allege that the 10 businesses named in the suit fail to comply with ADA statutes that require equal access for persons with disabilities, citing a lack of disabled parking spaces and wheelchair ramps, as well as accessible restrooms.

The lawsuits have become an annual summer tradition for the Austin-based civil rights advocacy group since the law was first passed in 1990. So far, the project has met with great success, said Ernest Saadiq Morris, a spokesman for the project. "Most defendants in these cases, once they realize they aren't in compliance, often decide it's better to work with us," Morris said. Lawsuits are the best and only vehicle for ADA compliance, he said.

With ADA, there is no agency to enforce compliance, so it's up to private citizens to keep businesses in check. Persons with disabilities file complaints to organizations like the Texas Civil Rights Project, which then turn around and file suits on their behalf. The majority of the time, cases don't go to court, Morris said. Many times companies just need to be made aware. "The problem isn't that there is malicious intent. The problem is that able-bodied people just don't think about persons with disabilities," he said.

Sometimes businesses have the misconception that they have to make major changes to be compliant, as was the case of Stubb's, Morris said. Stubb's has an unpaved path serving as a ramp, potentially dangerous for those in wheelchairs, which can slip on the loose gravel, he said. Stubb's attempted to install an elevator but was denied a permit by the city. Morris said the solution could be as simple as merely paving the ramp. "A lot of times they feel like they've done all that they could have done. [The suit] serves to make the defendants aware of what the particulars are."

Also named in one of the suits is the city of Austin itself, which, the project alleges, gave building permits for renovations that weren't ADA-compliant. Although she hasn't yet reviewed the suit, Anne Morgan, the city's chief of litigation, said that sometimes the city is unaware of these things, especially in cases where businesses renovate without permits, which happens often. "The city certainly has an interest in being compliant," she said.

The suit also includes Mozart's Coffee Roasters, which replaced its ramp with an oft-malfunctioning wheelchair lift, and 23 area Sonics that lack wheelchair-accessible tables in their picnic areas. "Public education is a big part of it," Morris said. "The public doesn't recognize these obstacles and don't think about them. Disabled persons have the same rights as anyone else."

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Americans With Disabilities Act, Texas Civil Rights Project, Stubb’s Bar-B-Q, Iron Works Barbecue, Ernest Saadiq Morris, city of Austin, Anne Morgan, Mozart’s Coffee Roasters

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