ADA IS PROTECTED AND EXPANDED BY TESTIMONY IN SACRAMENTO
We can thank the remarkable testimony from the disability community January 23 & 24 at the California Building Standards Commission for convincing the Commission to revise some of the most egregious of the code change proposals that concerned us. Congratulations to everyone who called in and those who attended the hearing. Great job!
Here’s what was accomplished:
1. The exception for “structural impracticability” that was proposed to apply to both new and existing construction will be eliminated.
2. We will no longer be held forever to using the 2010 code for telephones, restrooms, drinking fountains, signs and entrances. As the proposed code was written, any building that was remodeled and had to make these features accessible would not have to make any upgrades if they met the 2010 standards. Instead, the this section will be amended to allow this kind of “grandfathering” only for one code cycle back (the code changes every three years.)
3. An accessible route will be required to water slides, wrestling & boxing arenas, animal containment areas, and raised diving boards & diving platforms
4. Hotel and motel rooms which are not accessible will still have to have accessible room and bathroom entrances and access into and through the bathroom. Access into the bathroom had been proposed to be eliminated.
5. The color contrast required for way finding surfaces for persons with vision impairments will be maintained.
6. The center line of toilets will have to be between 17 and 18 inches from the wall. The proposed code was to allow 16 to 18 inches, which would create a barrier for many users.
Many issues for the vision impaired were discussed by those testifying and will also be the subject of future code development as will be our issues which did not get addressed yesterday. The Commission also voted to direct the State Architect to work more openly with people with disabilities.
What we will have in the new code that goes into effect January 1, 2014 is the best of the ADA Standards which provide more access requirements than we have had in state code and the best of the state code which we have used since 1982.
It’s amazing how effective the disability community can be. However, much appreciation must go to the Secretary Anna Caballero who chairs the Commission meetings. She was most gracious and went out of her way to insure we had an opportunity to make ourselves heard. Appreciation also goes to the staff for the State Architect, who met advocates the evening of the 23rd to discuss our concerns, which was very helpful in clarifying the issues so that they could be addressed under the parameters of the Commission authority.
Business Groups are Thrilled;
Disability Advocates are Unhappy
In a rare bipartisan action, the Legislature and Governor Brown worked together to craft new legislation in an attempt to move the state forward in bringing more businesses into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). SB 1186, co-sponsored by Senate President Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) was passed with overwhelming support from both parties and signed by the Governor in September.
The major provisions of SB 1186 are:
bans “demand for money” letters,
requires attorneys to send a notice letter at least 30 days before filing a lawsuit
prevents “stacking” of multiple claims to increase monetary damages
significantly reduces damages against business owners who correct alleged violations within 60 days of receiving a complaint
requires landlords to disclose whether their buildings or properties are state-certified and in compliance with ADA laws
“We are extremely pleased that Gov. Brown recognized that disabled access lawsuits are out of control and that change was needed,” said Kim Stone, president of the Civil Justice Association of California, an industry-sponsored advocacy group.
“This bill should provide some relief to small business owners who are making good faith efforts to comply and it should help rein in unscrupulous plaintiffs’ lawyers who have been exploiting the Americans with Disabilities Act for financial gain,” Stone said.
Sen. Steinberg said SB 1186 is a compromise that applies a “common sense approach” to resolve difficult issues.
“The whole point of our state and federal disability access laws is to remove barriers for the disabled, giving them full and equal access to businesses like everyone else. Up until now, unfortunately, it was often cheaper and quicker for business owners to settle out of court than to remove those obstacles,” he said. “SB 1186 will instead provide more incentives to fix the violations and enhance accessibility.”
While acknowledging many good points in the new law, representatives from Californians for Disability Rights were concerned with several provisions. Businesses can now claim ‘good faith’ attempts to comply with the ADA in new and remodeled projects that fail to meet standards. In so doing, they will be given reduced penalties and additional time when they may have failed to consult with professionals versed in the ADA prior to attempting modifications. These reduced penalties may work to incentivize non-compliance.
Since the passage of the ADA in 1990, 50% tax credits have been available to encourage businesses to move forward with providing the legally required access to disabled people. Businesses and government have had 22 years to move into compliance. With such a high level of financial support and 22 years since passage of the ADA, advocates rightly want to know the fundamental question, “If not now, when?”
Disability advocates are concerned that business interests are using this issue of alleged “renegade attorneys” to disguise core opposition to the ADA itself. “If you can’t criticize the law, then go after the attorneys,” said Tony Goldsmith, civil rights attorney and member of the legislative committee of Californians for Disability Rights.
At the bottom of the food chain are the people living with disabilities who sincerely wish to experience full access to all the U. S. has to offer. To conflate the issue of the actions of a few attorneys with the desire of disabled people to assert their rights is to risk diminishing public support for the requirements of the ADA. People living with disabilities also want to experience freedom and independence. Enforcement of the ADA is essential to the realization of the dream.
The independent living movement takes this issue seriously. We hope that the compromise worked out in this law translates into moving many more businesses into providing the full access required by the ADA as envisioned by the authors of the law.
The bill is an urgency measure, meaning it will take effect immediately.
XIONG BROTHERS’ WISH COMES TRUE
Tub Xiong (age 17) and Leng Xiong (age 16) have contracted Duchene’s Muscular Dystrophy, a sex-linked recessive genetic disorder. This rare form of MD progresses rapidly, has no known cure and usually results in death around the age of mid-20’s. The rapid progression leaves most youth in need of wheelchairs by the early teen years, as is the case with the Xiongs. The parents were struggling to provide transportation for both of the boys. With only standard automobiles at their disposal, it required two vehicles to get the two boys anywhere. It was necessary to perform a difficult lift by a family member to maneuver in and out of the vehicle with their wheelchairs. The parents turned to many agencies looking for assistance, but no agency could help them.
The parents turned to Independent Living Services of Northern California for assistance. Independent Living Services of Northern California took their request seriously and granted the family $500. The Clifton Lewis Foundation contributed an additional $1000. By combining the two gifts, the Xiong family finally purchased a used accessible van for their two lovely children. Leng and Tub stated that “our wish comes true.” They also stated that “we can go anywhere we want to go together now.”
Additional information about the services provided by Independent Living Services of Northern California can be found at: http://www.ilsnc.org/services