Social Question

laureth's avatar

How shall we balance the needs of the many vs the needs of the few, legally speaking?

Asked by laureth (27174points) July 28th, 2010

Twenty years ago this week, the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted into law. The ADA changed the physical and legal landscape for all kinds of people who had difficulties with everyday tasks. Besides discrimination being made illegal, accommodations were required to make public buildings equally accessible to the disabled.

“By age 24, [Jim Langevin (D-RI)] was in the Rhode Island Legislature. Later, when he came to the U.S. Capitol, it was a maze of steps and narrow hallways. Today, as he makes his way to his congressional office, he maneuvers his wheelchair down ramps and curb cuts and through automatic doors, all of which exist because of the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Source

“Now, the ADA’s impact is everywhere: wheelchair lifts on city buses, signs in Braille, sign-language interpreters. Many young disabled people are growing up with a marvelous sense of belonging, entitlement and pride I never had.” Source

However, this accommodation may be especially hard on small businesses. In his book Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal, eco-friendly farmer Joel Salatin talks about wishing he were able to open a small retail outlet on his farm in order to sell his wares (and those of neighbors) to the public. However,

”...As soon as we sell the neighbor’s cucumbers or homemade salsa, or pickles, or whatever, we must have a business license. That requires… (among other things) ...Handicapped parking and access. Designated areas and up-to-code everything – handrails and the works. Nobody enjoys seeing handicapped folks gain mobility more than I do, but this is my farm and my business. ...If I want to serve an exclusive clientele, what business is it of the government’s to define who I can and can’t serve and what kind of facility I want to do it in?”

Does the ADA stifle small business with its regulations and rules that help only a minority, or do the needs of disabled people to get around and be employed merit governmental intervention? And to take the question to a larger scale, ought the government to rule for the benefit of the citizens, or the benefit of business? If the answer is “for both,” where do you draw the line?

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21 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

It can. I had a friend who was sued for $5000 because the mirror in his restroom was ¼” too low. He ended up settling because, even if he had won, he would have been liable for the attorney’s fees for both himself and the plaintiff. When it is used like this it is abusive.

ADA was needed, but there has to be some common sense applied too.

lillycoyote's avatar

That’s always going to an issue in a free society, balancing the rights and the needs of people with various needs and interest. Maybe I am more sympathetic because, when my uncle was still alive I had 3, now 2 relatives, confined to wheelchairs. My uncle had early onset Parkinson’s and lost so much, to the disease, including his ability to play the cello, and he was a fine cellist. One of my cousins has been disable since birth and one has MS. Handicapped access is the only thing that allows them and their families to have some semblance of a normal life. Just going out to dinner or to a park is only possible because of this access. I have a sort of “there but for the grace of God go I” attitude. Any one of us, at any moment, at any time could become disabled, blinded or paralyzed, or we could be diagnosed with a disabling or degenerative disease. How would you want things, how would you want society to work if you or your spouse or your child became disable in some way?

escapedone7's avatar

I have several disabled relatives. They like to go into businesses and spend money. We all appreciate the businesses that have made accommodations for them. In a big city almost everything is accessible. In rural areas and small towns in the deep south where many main streets are made of 100 year old historical brick buildings, almost nothing is accessible. It’s not like everything in the whole world is accessible to my family members, so this is news to me. I think their money is as good as anybody’s, and if enough handicapped people shop at a store then perhaps money would be made rather than lost. I don’t think a small wooden ramp or handrail is THAT big a deal. Installing an elevator is though.

zophu's avatar

If the needs of the many were ever the top priority for the legal system, we wouldn’t need to worry about having the resources to take care of the (many) disabled. But this sounds a little like it could just be another way to increase the burden on people trying to run businesses in their own way instead of joining the matrix. Surely a commercial ski-lift doesn’t need wheelchair access to operate legally. Isn’t there a way around these things?

I don’t know, the disabled do need to be able to get around. But maybe there should be an exception if your business is small and isolated, or temporary. I don’t see why a farmhouse shop should be required to cater to special needs.

escapedone7's avatar

We go to farmers markets all the time. It is easy to take a scooter or chair around a parking lot that has tents and tables. I don’t think they have to install handrails or ramps, I’m not sure about all that. lol. I mean this farmer in your article wanting to sell a few pickles is making it sound like you need a handicapped parking space to put up a lemon aide stand. I’m not sure that is the case.

lillycoyote's avatar

@zophu Actually, though they may not legally be required to have them, some of them do. Link and link

anartist's avatar

It seems amazing that no solutions for the small farmer and his stand or market could not be had by contacting people at this site or similar

lynfromnm's avatar

The Grand Canyon is never going to be accessible.

That said, different jurisdictions deal with the ADA differently, and there are often exemptions made based on the size of the business. Public buildings must be accessible, which makes sense, but private businesses are NOT always required to meet ADA standards for accessibility.

Linda_Owl's avatar

A lot of small businesses are not wheel-chair accessible, as I discovered while vacationing in Tenn last year. Due to a severe back injury, I cannot do a lot of walking, so my family was pushing me around in a wheel-chair. I could not enter a great many of the small & very interesting looking shops because there simply was no way to accommodate the wheel-chair. So, it is not a universal thing & it seems to me that the ‘farmer’ in the illustration was simply making excuses (looking for reasons for not making an effort).

LuckyGuy's avatar

@WestRiverrat There are abusers who try to make a living on this law. Your friend needs to publish the “victim’s” name and let authorities know. Unless they are stopped they will do it to others – and no doubt have already. Once the paperwork is done they just change the name and the take new picture of the offending mirror.
Scumbag abusers give the legitimate cases a black eye. Notify the ADA Advocates in your area.

JLeslie's avatar

Older buildings are grandfathered in I think, they don’t have to spend the money to be ADA. In NYC not everything is accessible. But, I agree with all new contruction being ADA compliant, I think it is great. Several years ago a friend of mine from Venezuela said that she anyone who has a disability should come to the states, because we bother to accomodate them. I have Mexican relatives who say how wonderful it is that when a child or relative has some sort of disability we do not hide them away in shame. We are very lucky. As America ages we will have more and more people who need these accomodations. Not to mention that we save people from extreme injury more now as medical science progresses, but many times they are left with a disability. I am fine having exceptions for very small business if tose exceptions are on the books.

Cruiser's avatar

I heard this debated today on the radio and as said above common sense has to factor in to these types of Federal involvement. I heard example after example of wasteful spending over ADA compliance projects like wheel chair lifts in Major League dugouts and ramps and lifts for public beaches all costing tens of thousands dollars each that 9 years later have never been used! 14 years ago our business was “forced” to install special fire alarm system for deaf and blind people even though there never ever would be a deaf and or blind person working in a glue factory. There was an easy $19,000 out the window thank you very little!!

JLeslie's avatar

@Cruiser ramps at beaches aren’t used? That is surprising to me. Ramps help new parents also, which I forgot to mention in my above comment, helps with baby carriages. The dugout might be too far.

Cruiser's avatar

@JLeslie The caller was a life guard where I think the beaches were the ones that were not all that easy to get a wheel chair let alone stroller to where the lift was installed in the first place.

JLeslie's avatar

@Cruiser I see. Yeah, that is ridiculous then. If it isn’t practical, it isn’t practical.

ETpro's avatar

I think the basic idea of equal protection under the law demands that the Federal government ensure that, as far as practical, the disabled have access to things that those of us who are able bodied enjoy. But just as @Cruiser points out, you don’t have to look far to find examples of good intentions gone terribly bad. Perhaps there should be a commission that can be appealed to, or an amendment to the ADA allowing a litigant or person seeking a waiver from compliance when such compliance makes no snese to have their issue heard by a judge without the necessity of lawyers or juries—something akin to small claims court—where the judge could decide based on what is reasonable versus the letter of the law that was never intended to compel ridiculous expenditures that any thinking person can see do nothing to benefit the disabled, nor let the disabled profit from mirrors that are ¼ inch too low..

ratboy's avatar

@ETPro: “I think the basic idea of equal protection under the law demands that the Federal government ensure that, as far as practical, the disabled have access to things that those of us who are able bodied enjoy.”

I think the basic idea of equal protection under the law demands that the Federal government ensure that, as far as practical, the impoverished have access to things that those of us who are well off enjoy.

What’s the difference?

JLeslie's avatar

@ratboy I would guess the difference is one is perceived as something an individual has control over, and the other he doesn’t. Spinal cord injury, you can’t walk. Dropped out of school, or can’t hold down a job, your fault. I am not saying I agree with that answer, but I think a lot of people who live around me would see it that way. Although, many of the people around me are the same people who would be annoyed the federal government has regulations that costs business money, so they might not give a shit about either guy, not sure. And, they talk out of both sides of their mouths all of the time so I can never really guess.

ETpro's avatar

@ratboy I’d answer just as @JLeslie. I have freedom to travel about, but if I rob a bank, I give up my rights to that freedom because I’ve shown by my choice I can’t be trusted with it. A person who has a spinal cord injury or disabling birth defect deserves freedom to move around just as much as I deserve it.

I think we could afford to ensure that all people on Earth have certain basic needs of life met. I don’t buy the argument that we need megabillionaires who do nothing but profit from investments and casino capitalism so badly that we ought to let the mentally retarded or even the clinically depressed just sit and starve. But that’s a subject for another thread, where we can discuss the nuances of how you do that without demotivating the productive among us.

mattbrowne's avatar

There are no easy answers for ethical dilemmas.

SVTSuzie's avatar

WOW that’s heavy. You can just carry them in, onto the farm. Shove some extra dirt so its level w/ whatever walkway. In-so-far as government making people put extra money into fancy concrete, heck, make the government give these people maybe free ‘puters and internet so they can order on-line,I guess. This is a nasty topic. I’ll have to think about this. Have a handicapped shopping day.

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