Q. How does the new definition of disability affect places of public accommodation?
Places of public accommodation must be accessible for all persons who meet the new definition of disability, not just to persons who meet the ADA definition of disability. There are special rules about architectural accessibility. For further information, consult the Washington State Building Code at WAC 51-40, WAC 38-97-410, RCW 35.68.075, the Americans with Disabilities Act at 42 U.S.C. 12101 et. seq., and the Federal Fair Housing Act at 42 U.S.C. 3601 et.seq. You do not need to provide personal attendant or medical services, unless you are in the medical services field.
Q. How do I determine if a person has a disability?
The disability may be obvious, such as a person who uses a wheelchair. In other cases a person using a public accommodation may need to inform you of the disability so that you can make the place of public accommodation accessible for that person.
Q. Is a place of public accommodation required to make reasonable accommodation to persons with a disability?
It is an unfair practice for a public accommodation to fail or refuse to make reasonable accommodation for a known disability. Reasonable accommodations might include the use of a freight elevator if that is the only available elevator; bringing information, services, or merchandise to a patron; providing a sign language interpreter; or installing grab bars in restrooms. Note that services provided are only required to be equally effective to those provided to people without disabilities.
Q. When is an accommodation not considered to be reasonable?
An accommodation is not considered to be reasonable when the cost or difficulty in providing the accommodation is prohibitive to the providing entity. The size of the place of public accommodation, the availability of staff, the organization’s total budget, and the resources available are considered when determining reasonableness.
Q. What if a person has a dog or other animal with them?
A service animal is an animal that is trained for the purpose of assisting a person with a disability. You may ask the person if the animal is a service animal, and what service the animal provides. If the animal is a service animal, you cannot ask for proof or ask about the person’s disability. The animal does not need to wear a vest or special tags. You must allow service animals into any parts of the premises that are available to members of the public. This includes dining areas, restroom areas, and areas in which foods are sold. Service animals are not considered to be pets, so a “no pets” policy does not apply. The service animal will often be a dog, but can also be another kind of animal. You can refuse to allow the service animal only if the animal poses an immediate or reasonably foreseeable risk or danger to people or property. Speculation that the animal poses a risk is not enough to refuse the animal. You can find more information in Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 162-26-130 and 162-26-135. See also information on services animals elsewhere in this document.
Q. What does it mean when an animal is a “trained” service animal?
The animal is trained to assist the person with a disability in a way connected to the disability. This could be a guide dog which guides a blind person, a small dog which makes its owner aware of a pending seizure, or a cat that knows to comfort and be close to a person who has a diagnosed anxiety disorder. The animal does need training, but the training does not need to be formal and the animal does not need to be certified. Generally, use of a service animal, especially those that provide unusual services, should not be self-prescribed. Animals in-training are not covered.
Q. What if a building is not physically accessible?
If a building is old and has not been recently remodeled, it may be “grandfathered in” under the building code, meaning that the building does not need to meet current accessibility requirements. Newer construction, or buildings that have undergone a major remodel recently, need to meet current accessibility standards. If you suspect that a building should meet accessibility standards but does not, you may contact the WSHRC for guidance. There are special rules about architectural accessibility. For further information, consult the Washington State Building Code at WAC 51-40, WAC 38-97-410, RCW 35.68.075, the Americans with Disabilities Act at 42 U.S.C. 12101 et. seq., and the Federal Fair Housing Act at 42 U.S.C. 3601 et.seq.
Q. I visited my local movie theater last night with my trained service animal and the manager wouldn’t allow me to enter with the animal. The manager said they don’t allow animals in the theater. Doesn’t the law allow my dog to go with me to places of public accommodation?
Yes, the law does call for places open to the public to allow a trained service animal to go with the person. The law treats the animal like any other tool that the person with a disability needs to fully enjoy the service or product. The owner of the animal is still responsible for how the animal acts. Bad behavior can be a reason to be asked to leave.
Q. I use a wheelchair but a local business wouldn’t help me out when I tried to enter their store. Don’t they have to make their products available to me whether I can walk into the store or not?
The law says that places open to the public must make their products or services available to everyone. So if someone has a problem getting around they must still have access to the service or product. This does not mean that they have to change their building to give access. This may mean that the owner does business someplace else or through another method for people with a disability.
Generally any building built in the last few years meet the building code. The building code meets the ADA needs. However, in some cases this isn’t the situation but the public still needs to have access.