INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — Local municipalities are going to have to change the way they think and act about the Americans with Disabilities Act, or the ADA as it is more commonly known.
City Attorney Randy Mora took more than 30 minutes at the commission meeting June 11 to explain what the act means and how it impacts everyday life in this generation. He said it boils down to cities having to look at every aspect of what they do, especially technologically.
“In the modern era knowledge is held in the highest esteem,” he said. “These days knowledge comes in the form of data; data is now king. ADA advocates say that data online is not as accessible as it should be and could be.”
Until recently, the general feeling was that to be ADA compliant meant having a ramp up to the doorway, or safety bars and a wider doorway into the bathroom. Now it is much more than that.
As things evolve electronically the definition of ADA compliance must evolve as well.
The definition of ADA compliance in the modern era is tied to the act, which became law in 1990.
The definition of the ADA is spelled out on the ADA website. The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities just as it gives civil rights protections on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age and religion.
“It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications,” the website says.
“Local government services” is where Mora comes in. He cautioned the commissioners to be aware of what is happening.
He said civil rights activists are now suing local governments to make sure they are ADA compliant. The reason for that, he said, is because the federal Department of Justice hasn’t stepped up to make the ADA a priority.
“There are no guidelines out there for cities to follow to come into compliance regarding online data,” he said. “That makes it tough for staff to comply. There just isn’t a checklist to follow.”
New York, Florida and California have the most lawsuits filed regarding ADA compliance. Mora says that makes sense because they are the three largest states.
Given that, he said if a lawsuit is filed there may be only one course of action to follow.
“Unless you know what is true or untrue then the word is to settle,” he said.
He said settling a lawsuit of this nature is much cheaper than going to court and paying high lawyers’ fees.
Mora said if a city is providing online information and guidance to its residents then it must provide that service to disabled residents as well. He said that means making it possible to use “screen readers” and “text to speech”’ programs for people who may be sight or hearing impaired. He said even color contrasts must be taken into consideration because some people can’t distinguish between grey and black.
“It is the issue du jour across the state,” he said. “This community is aware of all this and is involved with this.”
Commissioner Phil Hanna wondered about the consequences if the city doesn’t comply with the ADA regulations and is sued over it.
Mora again spelled out the choice between settling and fighting it.
“The fines are not substantial if you lose, anywhere from $200 to $5,000. It is the attorneys’ fees you have to be mindful of,” he said.
“There are some vultures circling around out there looking to make a buck,” he said. “But put yourself in the place of people with needs and the feds won’t help.”
He suggested until there are clearer rules in place it might be best to settle whatever claims there might be.
“There is humanity to this,” he said. “It is not a good look to be seen going out in the community fighting disability rights.”
In other news from the meeting, several residents were either appointed or re-appointed to various city boards.
Frank Waters was reappointed to the Finance and Budget Review Committee with a term that expires in 2022. Jim English was appointed to the Committee also with a term that expires in 2022.
Joe McCall and Rick McFall were reappointed to the Planning and Zoning Board with terms that expire in 2021 while Beth Smith and Adrienne Dauses were appointed to the board with terms that expire in 2021.