Restaurants. Antique stores. Consignment shops. Bars. Hardware stores. Can a wheelchair get in? Bookstores. Hair salons. Banks. Bakeries. Do you have access? To coffee shops? Law offices?
WHAT TO DO
|WHEN YOU CAN'T GET IN
Here's what you need to do in order to get access!!
You have a right to get into our communities' shops, restaurants, bars, video stores -- any place the public goes, you have a right to go! "Places of public accommodation" are required to be accessible to people in wheelchairs. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990, requires it. The Kentucky Civil Rights Act also says businesses cannot discriminate against a person with a disability.
What should you do when you can't get in? Inform the business that you can't get in, and that they have a requirement to provide access! This is the first task you must do. Many times, a letter is all it takes to get a business owner to "do the right thing."
However, not all business owners will co-operate. If, after following the outline below, you find that the business owner will still not make the premises accessible, the other avenue open to you is filing a lawsuit. The ADA was written so that the only way "public accommodations" access violations can be corrected is through a lawsuit.
Contact MetroSweep if you have followed the instructions here and are finally contemplating filing a suit. You may be able to find an attorney to work with you, or you may file a pro-se lawsuit on your own.
Start by sending the business owner a letter.
When you send a letter, you have a written record that you have told the business of their obligation under the law. This way nobody can say they weren't "told." The letter on the following page is similar to one that MetroSweep has used with many businesses. You should write a letter stating the problem and asking the business to tell you when they will be accessible. This is the most important part of the letter. It lets the business owner know that you expect them to fix the problem by a certain date.
Be sure your letter includes these three points:
Enclose a copy of the "ADA Guide for Small Businesses" put out by the U. S. Small Business Administration and the U.S. Department of Justice. You can download a copy of the booklet and print it out.
Who do I address the letter to? You need to find out the name and address of the owner of the business. You can
Send your letter by certified mail to be sure it is received. (Be sure to keep a copy of the letter for yourself, too!) Get a "return receipt." This is more documentation that you need to keep.
Next: see what response you get from the business.
After you have sent your letter (and kept a copy!!) wait a month to see if you get a reply. It is important to get a reply by letter, in writing, so that you have a record of what the business owner says they will do.
One of these 4 things will happen, for sure:
1. The business sends you a letter saying that they are already accessible. They may believe they are accessible, even though in fact they are not. Or they may really have an accessible entrance, but it's not readily apparent. If they say they're accessible but they aren't, you will need to write back and explain in detail why they are inaccessible. They may think a two-inch step is OK when in fact it is inaccessible. (It is time-consuming but important to do all this in writing so that you will have a clear record of what has happened. Send the letter and ask for their response by a certain date.) However, if the building does have an accessible entrance, but it's not readily apparent, write back and explain that they need to post a sign at the main entrance to let customers know where the accessible entrance is. If nobody knows about it, it's not really accessible, is it?
2. The business sends you a letter telling you it will put in a ramp, widen the door, put in grab bars, etc. by a certain date. VICTORY! -- Maybe. Write a letter right away and thank the owner, and let them know you look forward to visiting their establishment -- and name a date after they have said they will be accessible.
3. The owner writes back, but makes an excuse for remaining inaccessible Excuses might include:
At this point you should contact MetroSweep and share the business owner's letter with us for discussion.
4. The owner does not respond. In this case, send another letter (here is a sample letter you can use.) -- also by certified mail. Again, give a 3-week deadline for response. If the owner does not respond the second time, contact MetroSweep for discussion.
What if the business promises to become accessible, but doesn't?
You write to Joe Smith's Barbecue in March. Joe Smith writes back in April. "We'll put in a ramp as soon as the weather warms up!" Victory!! But now it's late September, and there's still no ramp. What do you do? Bring your letters, and Joe Smith's letter, to MetroSweep for discussion.
It is important to keep a paper trail. Always, ALWAYS deal with business owners in writing, through letters. It often seems boring and time-consuming to do this, but it is the only sure way to "document" what you said, and what the business owner said -- or promised. It provides a paper trail which is very important as we move forward in the campaign for access.
If you are denied access, it is a violation of the Kentucky Civil Rights Act. The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights is charged with enforcing that law, and you can file a complaint with them if you are denied access to a place of public accommodation due to your disability.
It is also possible for you to file a lawsuit over an ADA access violation, without using an attorney. A lawsuit you file yourself is called a "pro-se" lawsuit.
If you are thinking of filing a suit, or if you have filed a discrimination complaint, please contact MetroSweep -- we would like to know about it!