Fresno

Fresno looks to help small businesses navigate ADA headaches

The Fresno City Council on Thursday will consider extending the contract with Taylor Group Architects, a consulting firm.

The issue at hand is the complex and sometimes controversial interaction between the survival of small businesses and the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Taylor contract is for one year and is not to exceed $105,000. The Taylor Group will provide services for something called the “Accessible Fresno Small Business Initiative” (or Accessible Fresno for short).

The 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA, is very familiar to both policy makers at the municipal government level and business owners of almost any size.

As the staff report from Public Works Director Scott Mozier says, the ADA “is a federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination of individuals with disabilities and requires all facilities used by the public (public accommodations) to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

The staff report goes on to say that the ADA requires businesses to “remove barriers to accessing goods and services….” The removal of these barriers should be “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”

In the legal world that is ADA compliance, the staff report says, this requirement is known as “readily achievable barrier removal.”

The challenge is satisfying everyone without destroying the business. The cost of ADA compliance can be onerous for businesses, especially the small ones. The cost of settling an ADA lawsuit can be onerous, as well. The cost of losing an ADA lawsuit can be devastating. At the same time, people with disabilities have a legal right to full participation in America’s public life.

Accessible Fresno, says the staff report, “is a proactive program to encourage businesses within the City of Fresno to take steps toward construction related accessibility compliance. Under the direction of the Accessible Fresno program administrator, the consultant will provide eligible small businesses with Certified Access Specialists inspection services, report, disability access inspection certificate, and inspection support services.”

These certified access specialists are called “CASp” for short.

A CASp, says the staff report, “is a professional who has passed an examination and has been certified by the State of California to have a specialized knowledge of state and federal construction-related accessibility standards…. A CASp inspection provides legal benefits that may reduce a business’ financial liability in a lawsuit.”

The staff report goes on to say: “Businesses that have had a CASp inspection prepared in accordance with the Construction-Related Accessibility Standards Compliance Act and are working toward compliance are eligible for ‘qualified defendant’ status under CA state law. A business that is a ‘qualified defendant’ may have their damages and legal fees reduced if they receive a lawsuit for accessibility violations.”

Legalese this may be, but there’s no doubt that the item before the Council on Thursday deals with an effort to level the playing field for businesses, especially small businesses, when it comes to ADA compliance.

“Accessible Fresno will provide eligible businesses with CASp inspection services at no cost to the business,” says the staff report. “Accessible Fresno is administered in-house by the ADA Coordinator… There is no cost to the business to apply or participate in Accessible Fresno.”

Businesses must meet certain eligibility criteria. For instance, the business must have a current valid business tax certificate and be located in Fresno. The business must be for-profit and have $1 million or less in annual gross revenue.

The city does not receive or review the CASp inspection report. Funding for Accessible Fresno comes from Disability Access and Education fees.

The staff report says about 50 businesses could be served through Accessible Fresno in the contract year.

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.