The ADA Trumps All

Mike Chesser recently faced a confusing situation involving a dog, a restaurant and a deputy. While this may sound like the beginning of a joke, it is something that is becoming more and more common and which deserves a bit of attention.

Mr. Chesser happened upon a member of a rapidly growing population of persons with disabilities enjoying the same access and benefits as the rest of the public. In Mr. Chesser’s scenario, the restaurant owner encountered a patron with a service dog. The restaurant owner not only refused to serve the patron, but also called the cops. It is a good thing for the restaurant owner that there is an attorney so close at hand…

The restaurant owner may have been concerned about local or state laws or health codes restricting animals in restaurants. However, the ADA trumps all of these. Wherever the general public can go in a restaurant, the service animal can go, too.

Recently, new regulations and extremely detailed technical standards for ADA accessibility came into effect. These apply to a whole host of businesses that are open to the public, including hotels, restaurants, medical offices and the like which are deemed to be “public accommodations.” One change is that the definition of “service animal” limits the animal used, with one exception, to dogs. No matter how helpful someone may find their service monkey, service snake, service parrot, service duck or service pig (all real-world examples), the ADA does not require businesses to allow these animals into their establishments.

If you are building or remodeling a business that serves the public, you should be aware of the new technical requirements for disabled access. Further, new rules affecting pools, spas, golf courses and other recreational features may require some degree of compliance regardless of when the facility was constructed. The definition of “places of lodging” has also been expanded to specifically cover condominium-hotels. Though it is not clear how this definition will ultimately be interpreted by the Department of Justice, which enforces these provisions of the ADA, it is clear that the DOJ is seeking to ensure that businesses that are open to the public comply with the ADA’s requirements, regardless of what they call themselves.

Perhaps the most controversial requirements involve rules requiring pool lifts or sloped entries for pools and spas. The effective date for compliance with these rules has been extended, and will likely be extended again until sometime in the early Fall of 2012. However, as compliance will require fairly significant expenditures, public accommodations with pools and/or spas should pay close attention to these developments.