The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was signed into law on July 26, 1990, and was a historic piece of legislation. The law provided many protections for Americans with disabilities and, as such, “prohibits discrimination and guarantees that people with disabilities have the same opportunities as everyone else to participate in the mainstream of American life.” (ADA.gov)
Despite the historical significance of the ADA and the protections and regulation it continues to provide, there are several significant issues with the legislation and its implementation that persist including: a lack of awareness, poor enforcement, and missing guidelines. VisitAble, a start-up located in Charlottesville, VA, is working on bridging the gap between ADA compliance, and practical mobility access through its certification process.
The ADA’s enforcement system is primarily complaint-based, and when a complaint is received it is up to the discretion of the Department of Justice (or the appropriate federal department) to decide whether a case will be pursued or not. It may take months or even years to get an ADA hearing, and they are often dismissed. Although there are many features that locations are legally obligated to provide, they likely won’t be penalized for the exclusion of those features unless a complaint is filed against the organization.
There are also many entities that do not consider accessibility, do not have the financial resources available to improve access, or are unintentionally perpetuating inaccessibility because they are not conscious of ADA requirements. This is even a problem for local governing bodies. An anonymous industry expert says less than 50% of local governments have a transition plan (required by ADA Title II) and less than 30% have an updated transition plan.
This lack of familiarity and implementation significantly hinders the intention of the regulations and creates an environment inconsistent with the obligations set forth to provide accessibility. Mobility challenges represent the most common type of disability in America, affecting 1 in 7 adults or over 36 million Americans; yet, only 15% of people affected by mobility challenges, as indicated in the 2020 Drive for Inclusion survey by BraunAbility, are satisfied with the effectiveness of the ADA today.
One area of focus that is especially stressed by the VisitAble certification process – which is not covered in the ADA’s provisions – is disability etiquette. The ADA provides very few resources or support in addressing an organization’s treatment of those with disabilities and the best practices for employers to reference in supporting and training their staff. The VisitAble certification process guides organizations through how to best serve disabled customers and visitors and treat them with respect.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, there is no element in the ADA regarding entities being transparent about the accessibility of their spaces. Due to the ever-present discrepancy between law and reality, individuals with disabilities often need to call ahead to public and private locations to ensure that facilities are accessible. Beyond this, the lack of education and training given to staff on accessibility at businesses and other public places around the county exacerbates the struggle for finding easily accessible places. The intrusive and arduous procedure of calling ahead creates a barrier of uncertainty that prevents many affected by disabilities from visiting a location. VisitAble, through its certification process, works to help public-facing locations share their locations’ mobility access information in a standardized and public method.
Another area for improvement in the ADA has to do with the myriad of loopholes created by its guidelines, particularly in reference to historic buildings and features. So many of these locations are exempt from various ADA provisions due to their “preservation” status. The VisitAble certification process suggests a number of creative solutions to maintaining a building's architecture while still providing those with disabilities the accommodations they need. There are also a variety of other exceptions that sprung out of the ADA’s language. Terminology such as "readily achievable", “undue burden”, “program access”, and “reasonable modification” can exclude a large number of locations from necessary accessibility as it leaves much of the legislation’s content up to interpretation.
Despite the many positive aspects of the ADA, the legislation alone is not enough to offer the necessary level of accessibility and inclusion needed by those living with disabilities. Our mission at VisitAble revolves around closing this accessibility gap and establishing a system that accounts for everyone.
Through testing, improving, and broadcasting mobility access and disability etiquette in its certification process and database of mobility information, VisitAble is promoting positive change and rewarding organizations for taking a proactive approach to disability inclusion. Through the certification process, VisitAble aims to fulfill their mission statement to Promote, Improve, and Empower organizations to make a difference.