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Does ADA affect boat dealerships?

The other day I watched a guy pull into a handicapped-only parking space, but he had no handicapped sticker hanging on his mirror. Since he didn’t look like he could beat the hell out of me, I asked: “Do you realize that’s a handicapped only space you’re in?” He just dropped the F-bomb and continued into Home Depot, but it got me thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act and its affect on dealerships and marinas. 

My sensitivity to handicapped parking goes back to when I broke my heel jumping off a sailboat at a boat show and spent several weeks in a wheelchair, then on crutches. For me, it forever drove home the importance of those extra wide, close-in handicapped spaces. A normal parking space simply wasn’t large enough for me to get the wheelchair out and get in it!

So, does ADA impact dealers today? In a nutshell – yes, in one way or another. For example, if you employ 15 or more people (not 50 or more as many believe) the business can’t discriminate in hiring and must make reasonable provisions to accommodate the disabled public. And, that’s no longer a small number. Today there are more than 50 million people, almost 20 percent of the U.S. population, considered disabled under the law, according to Steven D. Strauss, attorney, speaker and author of “The Small Business Bible” ( writing for USA Today.

The ADA was first passed in 1990 and rules have been revised many times, including recently, because of court decisions along the way. Strauss consulted with Barbara Otto, CEO of Think Beyond The Label, a national non-profit working to increase small business employment for people with disabilities. She contends complying with ADA should not be difficult for most small business and notes the following 5 recent changes for consideration:

Company Policy – Businesses are required to examine their policies to make sure they are non-discriminatory. She cites, for example, a clothing store that’s required under new guidelines to adjust a policy of permitting only one person in a dressing room if a disabled customer needed assistance from a companion.

Service Animals – The only animal considered a service animal is a dog. To be considered a service dog, the animal must perform tasks directly related to the person’s disability, such as helping a blind person to navigate.

Mobility Devices – Businesses must allow the use of personal mobility devices such as Segways, golf carts, or other devices intended to operate in non-pedestrian areas, except if the business can demonstrate a particular type of device cannot be accommodated because of legitimate safety requirements.

Communication Efforts – A small business is now expected to accommodate various communication efforts such as sign language, oral interpreters or assistive technology unless doing so would result in a significant expense.

Architectural Barriers – Financially, this could affect small business the most: A businesses providing goods and services to the public must remove “barriers to entry” and make interior changes enabling customers using mobility devices like wheel chairs to better navigate the location and easily reach merchandise.

There is little doubt that as our population ages, the number of Americans with a disability will only increase. Accordingly, ADA is something every dealer should take time to consider from both employment and customer viewpoints. That said, it’s equally important to understand that “reason” is supposed to prevail in this i.e. under ADA, a business does not have to provide an accommodation that would cause an “undue hardship.”


One comment on “Does ADA affect boat dealerships?

  1. Case still pending

    Everyone needs to be aware that this well intentioned law has been hijacked by a few crooked lawyers to become a way of extorting money from busnesses. As a victim of this extrotion I can tell you first hand you need to take it seriously. The way the law was written it is retro-active to all public buildings even if they were built prior to the laws enactment and even if you have never pulled a building permit since 1990. The way the extortion works is they find a business that is not fully compliant and immediately file a lawsuit, they are not entitled to damages, only fees and costs. They are experts at running up fees, costs, inspections etc. which you will ultimately be responsible for paying. They want you to fight them because it only runs up their fees and costs as well as your own attorney fees. The individual who sued us has filed over 200 of these suits. Upon advice form our attorney we agreed to settle this almost immediately and we were told by the other side that the cost of settling would be $25,000 plus our attorney fees, plus the cost of the renovations. Probably will end up in the $60,000 range in total. We are currently trying to negotiate a lower settlement, but we don’t have a great position to negotiate from, the law is very much one-sided in their favor. If you are in an older building (even if you rent you are still the one they sue) I suggest consulting with a contractor or architect as well as a lawyer who is familiar with this law to decide what is best for your situation. I am trying to get the law changed to require a 90 day notice of intent prior to allowing the lawsuit to be filed, so that at least we can avoid their exhorbitant fees and costs, you would still have to do the renovations but at least you would avoid the attorney costs. Anyone who wants to write their Congressman or Senator to ask them to change the law to include a 90 day notice would be very much appreciated. I know it is to late for me but this has to stop. In particular – Lamar Smith who is the head of the House Judiciary Committee that makes these types of changes.

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