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Our View: Access and education are needed

Our View
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It’s a tale of two struggles. The Americans with Disabilities Act has been in existence since 1990. Its ultimate goal of creating access for all, especially those with disabilities, is one worth lauding. On the same note, small businesses have been around for arguably centuries longer, and in today’s economy, many are struggling to stay open. A recent string of lawsuits delivered to several Auburn businesses by quadriplegic Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson have made the struggle for small business owners and the effort to highlight the positive and needed aspects of ADA law, a debate instead of a collaboration. Hopefully education on the law and legislation that would promote distinguishing ADA violations can come to the forefront of discussions on the issue of accessibility in public and private places. To date, several Auburn businesses have shared with the Journal they’ve received noncompliance lawsuits from Johnson. Each business owner interviewed conveyed the consensus that they want to provide help and accessibility for all customers. However, some of the minutia of the law was restrictive to making a profit. For example, Larry Taylor, owner of Pet Xing, said widening his aisles to ADA standards would result in 30 percent less inventory on the floor. As a way to help those who need it, Taylor posted a sign letting customers know staff will provide assistance. Taylor said Johnson is asking his business and two others in the same complex to pay $6,000 total, or take him on in court. When Machado Orchards was sued for also being out of compliance, according to Johnson, owner Shawnie Machado said Johnson did not specify what part of their business violated the law. Machado said Johnson included a photo of the front door but did not provide specific comments beyond “architectural barriers.” In previous Journal reports, Johnson said he does not specify because he wants businesses to look into ADA requirements and fix everything that needs to be corrected, including concessions for the visually and hearing impaired. He argues that businesses shouldn’t be granted licenses in the first place if they are not compliant. Machado and Taylor are not alone. The Auburn Chamber of Commerce has stepped in to help. Late last year it started to compile a list of Auburn-area businesses hit with ADA lawsuits. At last count the number was around 67. The Chamber declined to make the list public. Its also held an informational meeting about ADA laws. Some other form of help could be on the way. Congressmen Dan Lungren (R-Dist. 3) introduced legislation late last year that would require those filing lawsuits to specifically state what is out of compliance. It would then give business owners 60 days to respond in writing outlining improvements, and then 120 days to make them. That is a step in the right direction. Another necessary step is for businesses to arm themselves with knowledge. Consult with other businesses, use help that is out there, including ADA consultants and the Chamber of Commerce, which is planning another information meeting this spring. The law has been in existence for some time. It’s time to get to know it. Accessibility is necessary and fair and shouldn’t be denied to any citizen. But in the interest of providing access to all, the community and those with disabilities would be better served if the effort was focused on educating and raising awareness of the issue, rather than instantly penalizing people with cash demands.