Americans with Disabilities Act Compliance
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination and ensures that people with a range of abilities can participate fully in American life. This law affects farmers markets too.How to Manage this Risk
The ADA does not require that every facility install expensive or elaborate services and accommodations for all types of disabilities. At its base, the ADA prohibits discrimination. This means that, first and foremost, farmers markets should not prohibit people with disabilities from attending. Of course, no one intends to do that anyway! Aside from fairness, serving a wide range of customers is good business.
Generally speaking, the law requires that reasonable accommodations be made. For a farmers market, an accommodation is a modification that would enable all customers to access the market’s service regardless of ability. A reasonable accommodation or modification is dependent on the market’s operating budget and staffing. The market’s overall ability to provide resources such as time and labor to make the modification determine its reasonableness.
For example, if a market is renting portable bathrooms, it’s very reasonable to simply order a wheelchair-accessible unit. If the market offers free water or a handwashing station, for example, it might be easy to lower the height of the unit so it’s accessible.
In other instances, it won’t be quite as easy to create accessibility. For example, the farmers market may be in a historic building with stairs. Remodeling may not be possible or affordable for the farmers market, the property owner, or a property manager. Fortunately, the ADA doesn’t directly require remodeling in most cases—a business or organization can offer personal accommodations that enhance accessibility. If a person in a wheelchair requests help going over or around a barrier, the farmers market should provide personal assistance where it can.
Exactly what a farmers market should do to satisfy the ADA depends on when the market began operations, the specific layout and circumstances, and the cost of retrofitting facilities. At a minimum, farmers markets should see that folks in wheelchairs are not prevented from attending an event or using a restroom. In some situations, however, even these basic steps won’t be possible. In that situation, or to go beyond the basics, many farmers markets will need further support to comply with the ADA.
To make sure it complies with ADA, the market might do some extra research to see what else may be required. Options include:
- Contacting your regional ADA office for specific guidance on how to comply with the ADA
- Reading the Department of Justice’s “ADA Guide for Small Businesses,” available online.
- Calling the Department of Justice’s toll-free hotline at 800-514-0301.
- Contacting the Small Business Administration (SBA), which helps businesses understand how to comply with the ADA, and has offices throughout every state. (Find one near you at www.sba.gov.) The SBA is an excellent resource for learning if additional state laws set standards for access by disabled persons.
Constructing accessibility accommodations may be required if the farmers market is doing any building remodeling or construction. Generally, these obligations are addressed when the farmers market applies for a building permit from the local authorities. Again, the SBA is a resource to assist businesses and organizations in navigating ADA requirements.
Risk Management Tools
An LLC, corporation, nonprofit corporation, or cooperative can insulate market owners’ personal assets from business liabilities. However, assets belonging to the business itself are always available to satisfy business liabilities.
To learn more about Governance as a risk management tool, click here.
Market Rules and Procedures
Market-day safety checklists can help manage the risks of an ADA violation. In addition to making sure the site is safe at the start of the market, the checklist can assist in making sure any temporary accommodations are in place. The farmers market can also remind each vendor in the market rules that accommodating persons with disabilities is the law. Farmers markets can certainly prohibit discrimination, including against those with disabilities, in their market rules as well.
To learn more about Market Rules and Procedures as a risk management tool, click here.
Farmers markets that actively take steps to create accommodations might consider documenting the activity, such as taking a photo of a wheelchair-accessible portable restroom facility or handwashing station. From there, a market-day checklist indicating the accessibility feature was present will likely suffice.
On the other hand, if an accommodation is requested that the farmers market is unable to accommodate, it’s also helpful to document the request and the reasons the market felt it was not able to meet the request. Such a situation is unlikely to arise with any frequency so a form likely isn’t necessary. Instead, the market staff person or volunteer can write a memo or email with the details which can be kept on file. These aren’t necessarily admissible in court if it comes to a lawsuit, but they can be useful to help steer a conflict away from the courtroom. To the extent practical, it’s never a bad idea to document such interactions.
To learn more about Recordkeeping as a risk management tool, click here.