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24 Years After Enactment, Many Still Don’t Comply With ADA

Houston-based nonprofit commemorates the enactment of the law by filing lawsuits.

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Texas Civil Rights Project Houston Director Amin Alehashem holds a news conference with two of his clients, Nimat Abdullah (left) and Maria Palacios at the Houston Center for Independent Living.

Last year at this time, the Houston office of the Texas Civil Rights Project filed three Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits. One of them was against a Baskin Robbins franchise here in Houston for failing to make the shop accessible for people in wheelchairs.

Amin Alehashem is the nonprofit’s regional director and staff attorney. He filed that suit on behalf of Oralia Diaz.

“We settled that back in December if I remember correctly – December or January,” Alehashem said, “and we had a settlement agreement where they agreed to fix the issues, bring their store into compliance.”

This week, the Civil Rights Project filed four lawsuits, two against businesses in Houston and two in Pasadena.

Maria Palacios is the plaintiff in a suit against a check cashing store in west Houston. She said since the store has no wheelchair ramp, she had to be carried in by other customers.

“Being lifted is not only humiliating but it’s also very dangerous,” Palacios said. “It is not something that somebody in a wheelchair with any kind of a disability wants to be subjected to experiencing. In that particular case, because I wanted to make a statement, I wanted to show the need for access, I allowed strangers to lift me, wheelchair and all, into the check cashing place.”

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires businesses and other public facilities to grant easy access for people with disabilities.

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Wheelchair ramps like this are required for public and commercial facilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Texas Civil Rights Project represents their clients free of charge. Alehashem said if he had the resources, he could probably file 4,000 lawsuits in Harris County this year.

“No one has come to me. I’m not going out there looking for anything,” he said. “But I just wait till my friends or at least folks that I know with wheelchairs, they come to us and say, hey, I tried to go here and I couldn’t get in and they offered to carry me or I couldn’t get in the bathroom. And then once you get that complaint, then you take some action.”

So how come so many places don’t comply with federal law?

“Some people, I think, operate under this myth that maybe their building might be older, might be grandfathered in,” Alehashem said. “But basic access, the ability to just get in, there’s no grandfather clause for that. And the standard is not when you were built but how easy is it to do.”

George H.W. Bush signed the ADA into law on July 26, 1990.

Alehashem said although disabled Americans are still facing many roadblocks, things are getting better with each new building that is going up. New construction must meet ADA guidelines.

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Florian Martin

Business Reporter

Florian Martin is currently the News 88.7 business reporter. Florian’s stories can frequently be heard on other public radio stations throughout Texas and on NPR nationwide. Some of them have earned him awards from Texas AP Broadcasters, the Houston Press Club, National Association of Real Estate Editors, and Public Radio...

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