By: Bruce Warren, Journal Staff Writer
The U.S. Department of Justice is currently holding hearings on proposed revisions to the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, which will affect more than six million businesses nationwide. Placer County businesses that have 15 employees or more will be affected by the ADA Amendments Act, which is expected to be signed into law by President George W. Bush. The Department of Justice is currently taking comments on the revisions with final comments due by Aug. 18. One stipulation might help area businesses that spent one percent of their gross revenue on barrier removal in the previous year.
These businesses would have a “safe harbor” in regards to ADA compliance, according to a Department of Justice release in mid June. The ADA Amendments Act, which makes revisions to the ADA, has already passed the House. If signed into law, the act would require businesses with 15 or more employees to comply with accessible bathrooms and meetings rooms. Businesses would be required to provide disabled persons with the same access as peers. The new codes will affect establishments from theaters to the courtroom witness stand. Witness stands will have to allow disabled witnesses to be at the same level as others who testify. Attorney Catherine Corfee of Carmichael, who handles many ADA cases, cites possible code revisions that may affect marinas, saunas and gyms. Even some boat ramps along the American River would not be exempt. Auburn’s Leslie Brewer, director of advocacy and services at Placer Independent Resource Services (PIRS) attended last week’s National Council of Independent Living conference in Washington, D.C. She heard Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa speak. Harkin, chief Senate sponsor of the ADA that became law on July 26, 1990, pointed out that many people formerly covered under the ADA are no longer covered.
Auburn’s Brewer attended rallies on Capitol Hill, along with disabled advocates from around the country. She met with Democratic Congressman Sam Farr from California’s District 17, who advocates giving more money to groups such as PIRS in order to help disabled veterans, Brewer said. “I think the biggest need is educating the businesses and communities on access, but it’s more than just physical access,” said Brewer, when asked about what effects possible revisions might have on Placer County businesses. “It’s not that hard to comply with the ADA,” Brewer said. “The majority of our staff is disabled and it’s not hard for them to work where we are. People get scared when they hear the ADA, because so many lawsuits have been filed. That’s why we need education.