Handicapped access considered 'laws with flaws'

SAN ANTONIO – Ricardo Delgado proudly served in the U.S. Marine Corps, but now in his 70's, his hands and legs don't work so well.

So, like many Americans with disabilities, he depends on his motorized scooter chair to get around. When he gets to a  shopping center or other small businesses, he wants to get out of the parking lot quickly because, as he says, they're "kinda crazy." 

In the parking lot of a shopping center at Ingram and Callaghan roads, Delgado likes to use his ramp next to a handicapped space. When he first contacted The Defenders he said he frequently couldn't use the ramp because cars parked on top of it. 

The ramp is located in the parking space next to a marked handicapped parking slot, but at the time, it was not marked as a handicapped access point from the parking lot to the center's sidewalk.

Delgado called The Defenders wanting to know why no one was ticketed for parking on the ramp.

Since the '90s, two laws -- T.A.S., the Texas Accessibility Standards and the A.D.A., the Americans with Disabilities Act - spell out how many handicapped spaces small businesses must provide in their parking lots. Those laws also call for ramps or curb cuts to make it easier for those with disabilities to get from the parking lot to sidewalks. In some cases, access aisles are also required next to a handicapped parking space so people using wheelchairs can get in and out of their vehicles.

The shopping center Delgado frequently goes to has all that, but as Brian East, the senior attorney at Disability Rights Texas, notes with ADA requirements "There is a gap in enforcement" when it comes to disability access laws.

No one -- state or federal -- is looking at every single parking lot for compliance. Under TAS only new construction or building renovation projects over $50,000 are required to get their plans reviewed to make sure they remove architectural barriers for the those with disabilities.

Those projects are then required to be inspected upon completion to make sure they're in compliance.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation oversees TAS through its Elimination of Architectural Barriers Program. It has levied 61 fines in the past five years for TAS violations. Most of those were for procedural issues like failing to get an inspection for new construction. 

Enforcement is an issue, too. It's not up to local police. Police can only ticket people for parking in properly marked handicapped spots if their vehicle doesn't have a handicapped license plate or hanging tag. Police cannot ticket anyone for parking in a spot that looks like it might be used for handicapped access, but isn't marked as such. 

The Department of Justice has jurisdiction over disabilities issues. It gets lots of complaints but rarely prosecutes them.

There's also another gray issue. Some access points for those with disabilities may have been installed prior to ADA and TAS laws taking effect. Those do not always have to comply with the current standards. That was the case for the ramp Delgado brought to our attention. 

After checking with state officials who work on disability access, The Defenders found because of the age of the ramp and nearby curb cuts to allow sidewalk access, no markings were required on the ramp. However, after The Defenders reached out to the center's owner about the ramp he had it marked as a no-parking area. He may not have had a legal obligation, but he told The Defenders he felt he had a moral one to make it easy for those with mobility issues to get up onto the shopping center's sidewalk.

More Information

If you have a disability, the following links and organizations can help you file a complaint regarding handicap violations:

TAS: Go to TDLR website, click on the blue file a complaint button near the top of the page, next click on the "report" button, on the page that pops up click on the "architectural barriers" button, the "go" button near the bottom of the page.  This takes you to the complaint form itself which can be done anonymously.

ADA -- Head to the ADA homepage. A link to "File a Complaint" is on the right hand side.

Disability Rights Texas also takes some disability accessibility cases -- Look under the "Getting Help" section for more information on how to file complaints.

If you're a small-business owner, disability compliance laws can be difficult to navigate, too. So we've put links on our website to the resources that can help you determine your responsibilities.

Links to specifications:

TAS - The full standards are on the right side of the page and are also broken down by chapter: 

ADA links:    

Guide for Small Businesses          

Wheelchairs, Mobility Aids, and Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices

A primer for small business


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