First, what does the ADA stand for and what does it represent?
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) provides that all public services and facilities grant full access to individuals with disabilities so that they can lead full and productive lives. In order to accomplish this goal, the ADA contains requirements and responsibilities for medical practices in the areas of employment, physical access to facilities, and modification of policies and practices to eliminate barriers to effective health care.
The ADA provides rights and protections to individuals who have physical or mental impairments that “substantially limit major life activities.” Recent amendments to the statute require that the definition of who is disabled and therefore eligible to receive the ADA’s protections must be construed broadly. Although the statute and proposed revisions to its regulations list some impairments as examples of covered conditions, including those substantially limiting mobility, vision, hearing, speech and thinking. Also physiological diseases and other non-minor ailments with lasting impact, other conditions may also be covered.
Title I of the ADA prohibits medical practices with 15 or more employees from discriminating against individuals with disabilities in employment matters. In other words, if job applicants or employees are otherwise qualified for a job, their disability may not be used as a basis for adverse action in hiring, promotions, working conditions, compensation, or other aspects of their employment.
Moreover, ADA Title I requires medical practices to reasonably accommodate disabilities, by adjusting policies, providing assistive devices, removing barriers, and otherwise assisting the employee to perform the job. However, the medical practice is not required to make accommodations that would place an undue burden on the business and its staff.
Title III of the ADA places responsibility on places of public accommodation, including medical practices to ensure that patients, clients or visitors with disabilities have full access to their facilities and services. Medical practices should ensure their policies and procedures provide unfettered access to their services and take into account the needs of people with disabilities.
For instance, individuals whose disabilities require them to use assistance animals, such as guide or warning dogs, should be allowed to take their assistance animals with them to medical appointments, to the full extent that it is safe and practicable. Animal allergies of other patients are often not accepted as a valid reason for denying use of an assistance animal when there is any way to keep the animal away from the allergy sufferer.
Additionally, medical practices should develop policies that ensure that individuals with mental health conditions are excluded from service because of their disability-related behavior, when reasonable accommodations can be made. Staff should receive training on accommodation policies and practices.
Buildings that house medical practices and the offices of the practices must comply with the ADA and its accessibility requirements to ensure that individuals with mobility and vision impairments can get around safely. Newly constructed buildings and offices, as well as those that have undergone renovations or major modifications, should be built in compliance with the ADA Accessibility Guidelines, which provide detailed specifications on parking, ramps, door widths, restroom facilities and other features that affect accessibility.
Equipment and furniture should also be selected with the needs of individuals who use wheelchairs and scooters or who have difficulty moving around.
Because clear communication and understanding are essential to effective provision of health care, medical practices must be prepared to provide assistance to individuals who have difficulty with hearing or speaking. The ADA imposes requirements for the provision of assistive communication devices and translation services for patients who need them. Cost and inconvenience to the medical practice are not accepted as excuses for failure to provide these services when requested. Similarly, medical practice staff must provide oral explanation of written materials or forms, large print materials or other methods for ensuring that patients with visual impairments have full access to written information.
Several unique, property-specific ADA requirements are necessary for all commercial and medical real estate practitioners to become aware. If you or an acquaintance require more information to move forward on a real estate decision, please contact us and we will recommend the proper resource.