Monday, July 2, 2012
Enter the warriors and all the bureaucrats who enforce the ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act). Of course there's the Department of Justice (DOJ) to punish the malefactors.
Recently, the DOJ generously extended the deadline for violators of the new ADA rules. Well, maybe not so generously. The requirements also affect judicial facilities, prison facilities and public recreation facilities. Such governmental agencies always lag behind private businesses in complying with the law. So in actuality, the extension was self-serving. In the private sector, the new rules and regulations already cover the aforesaid miniature golf courses, driving ranges, amusement parks, sauna facilities, the aforesaid restaurants, and shooting ranges.
Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez spoke at a conference in Baltimore early in June. He said: “We expect the implementation of these accessibility standards to open up doors for full participation in both the responsibilities, such as jury duty, and the benefits, such as playing at city parks, of civil life for people with disabilities.” Thus, the extension of time for implementation. But the same rules apply to private businesses. The public facilities will be improved and made compliant using taxpayer dollars, so what the heck. But the cost to private businesses will be borne by individuals already struggling to survive in a terrible economic environment.
Get out your tape measures and surveying tools, folks. Fifty percent of golf holes on miniature golf courses must be accessible to the handicapped. The ground space around a hole must be a minimum of 48 inches by 60 inches, “with slopes not steeper than 1:48 at the start of play.” At gyms, at least one of each type of exercise machine must be positioned so that it is “accessible” to a person in a wheelchair.
Saunas must have “sufficient turning space” and at least one bench specifically designed for the disabled (sitting and sweating in your wheelchair not allowed). For inside gun ranges, there must be “sufficient turning space for each different type of firing position (my question on that one is 'does that include the standing position?').” Full-sized golf courses get even more attention. There must be an accessible route to connect all accessible elements within the boundary (this could be a bit difficult if the fifty percent of “accessible” holes are not contiguous). Swimming pools must have a wheelchair accessible entry point unless the pool is larger than three hundred linear feet, in which case it must have at least two such accessible entry points.
And now for those restaurants (and taxis, by the way). Well, now it's time to let those guide horses in. Most of us are used to, and understand, rules that allow guide dogs for the blind where other dogs would not be allowed. More recently we have begun to accept the reasonable exception made for those physically or emotionally handicapped persons who are almost entirely dependent on their canine companions for normal activity. But horses?
OK, so they're not going to require that the restaurant owner or taxi driver allow Secretariat or Seabiscuit into their eateries or cabs. It's only miniature horses which must be allowed and facilitated. “A public accommodation shall make reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures to permit the use of a miniature horse by an individual with a disability if the miniature horse has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of the individual with a disability.” Miniature horses are cute as hell, and can be very affectionate. But no matter how you cut it, they're not as smart as certain breeds of dogs, though most are smaller than a St. Bernard. But whoever heard of “dog flies?”
The justifications for adding miniature horses are many. Among them are religious objections by certain segments of society to using or having contact with dogs. Another is allergy to dogs (a handicap on top of a handicap). There is also the “fact” that miniature horses have a longer useful life span than dogs (seven years for dogs, as much as twenty-five years for miniature horses).
At Joe's Greasy Spoon Restaurant, the biggest objection (other than equinophobia) is the potential mess a horse of any size would be likely to produce where humans are eating and a minimum of sanitation is expected. No problem, say the mini-horse people. Says one ADA spokesman: “Similar to dogs, miniature horses can be trained through behavioral reinforcement to be 'housebroken.'” Since there is not yet a visible “housebroken” certificate or horse tag identifying the little horse as housebroken, it would be a quandary for both the restaurant owner and the taxi driver. What if the mini-horse actually isn't potty trained? Answer: horse manure.
Nobody has yet addressed the potential conflict when two disabled persons show up, one with a dog and the other with a mini-horse. What if Fido and Man O' War don't like each other? How about the patron who is terrified of dogs, or the other one who gets the heaves at the sight or smell of a horse (big, small or indifferent)? But I'm sure we can trust our government bureaucrats to solve those conflicts with ease.
This is going to be great fun (except for those who end up in jail for failing to comply, or in the poorhouse for complying). The possibilities for increasing the number of overpaid bureaucrats to enforce the rules are almost innumerable. San Francisco, always in the forefront of enforcing ADA rules, has proven just how silly loosely-written ADA laws can be, as well as the deleterious results they produce. You'll be seeing things like the San Francisco nonsense nationwide soon.
For instance: A deli-restaurant beloved by San Franciscans for four decades, located on bustling Market Street, was found not to have a compliant disabled accessible entryway. The owners realized that the requirements were both reasonable and legal. So they did what any good citizen does. They spent hundred of thousand of dollars on construction of a disabled accessible entrance. Doing so on Market Street would have been a major interruption of business and would have required outrageously expensive relocation of fixtures and replacement of load-bearing walls and columns. So the owners quite logically and reasonably did the construction at the side of the building on Sixth Street. If you can call construction of a disabled accessible structure a work of art, this was one—including the automatic opening doors.
All was well, right up through the grand re-opening, at which point one potential customer in a wheelchair objected to the structure, since it was on the side of the building rather than in front, and filed an ADA discrimination suit. He won, and the owners were required to go forward with the far more expensive and unnecessary construction at the front of the restaurant in addition to the one on the side. The owners threw in the towel and closed the business. It sat empty and decaying for months. San Francisco lost a great local restaurant, only to have it replaced much later by a Wendy's franchise. Wendy's could afford better lawyers, and ultimately the handicapped entrance on Sixth Street was allowed after all.
In the “let the taxpayers pay for it” example, all of the San Francisco superior courts and clerical offices were closed while City Hall underwent an earthquake retrofit following the big Loma Prieta quake of 1989. The City/County of San Francisco rented a skyscraper located in the financial district for the period of the retrofit. The building was already wheelchair accessible, though the courtrooms had to be upgraded for accessibility for the public and the jurors. But they forgot one little detail. They didn't make the judges' chambers and benches wheelchair accessible. Doors had to be widened, and ramps built to allow the disabled judges to get onto their seats behind the bench. The cost to the taxpayers ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, approaching a million.
Now for the reality. There was only one judge in the entire superior court judicial panel who was actually in a wheelchair. And he wasn't the one who complained. He simply asked nicely if they could fix things up for him, and it was done forthwith. He was happy as a clam. It was an officious intermeddler who was not even part of the system who filed the complaint. So all the courtrooms and judicial chambers were made wheelchair accessible. Only one was ever used. And now the courts are back in City Hall, and all that construction and expense was for naught. But the bureaucrats still have a satisfied smile on their faces as San Francisco sinks farther into debt.
I guess we should be grateful that the one wheelchair-bound judge didn't have a miniature horse to help him out. Now that would have been some really cool reconstruction. "Reasonable modifications in policies, practices or procedures" has an entirely different meaning for government bureaucrats from the meaning you or I would give it. Get ready, this is only the tip of the bureaucratic iceberg.