ADA compliance: An ever-changing challenge

Greek mythology tells the tale of Sisyphus; a man who, for eternity, must push a boulder up a hill. Before he ever reaches the top, the rock rolls back down. Today, the term Sisyphean sometimes describes what seems to be never-ending work. Many leaders in Texas local governments might apply it to the task of complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The ADA is a federal law that ensures the privileges of civic life are as accessible to disabled individuals as they are to the general population. And Title II of the law requires state, county and municipal governments to be sure public facilities, programs, or services are accessible to all. You can plan to make accommodations with new projects. Retrofitting existing structures and programs is another story. At times, projects can become points of dispute and court battles.

Good things to know

While the ADA is strict about meeting requirements, those with experience in this area of legal practice appreciate that there is some room for governments to maneuver under certain conditions.

For example, there is no “grandfather” provision in the ADA that excuses local governments from making sure existing programs and services are accessible to disabled people. However, if changes mean fundamentally altering the purpose of an existing facility, program or service, or if they pose an excessive burden financially or administratively, an argument for an exception from Title II.

Another area where some flexibility exists is in the scope of access. While the law requires disabled accessibility for facilities, programs and services, there are acceptable limits. For example, one entry to a city office building that is ADA compliant may be sufficient to meet the law’s requirement. One restroom in a facility that is ADA compliant could also be enough.

These are just a couple of the issues that county and local governments may have to address under the ADA. One of the biggest mistakes leaders make failing to act, presuming for some reason they are exempt from the law because of small size or a structure’s historic significance. Regulators also note certain unintended shortcomings, such as when rules and ordinances that never anticipated the needs of the disabled remain unmodified.

These matters and more can be addressed by conducting strong self-evaluations, guided by experienced attorneys, with the ADA in mind. Indeed, those exams are also required by the law.