Does ADA affect boat dealerships?

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The other day I watched a guy pull into a handicapped-only parking space, but he had no handicapped sticker hanging on his mirror. Since he didn’t look like he could beat the hell out of me, I asked: “Do you realize that’s a handicapped only space you’re in?” He just dropped the F-bomb and continued into Home Depot, but it got me thinking about the Americans with Disabilities Act and its affect on dealerships and marinas. 

My sensitivity to handicapped parking goes back to when I broke my heel jumping off a sailboat at a boat show and spent several weeks in a wheelchair, then on crutches. For me, it forever drove home the importance of those extra wide, close-in handicapped spaces. A normal parking space simply wasn’t large enough for me to get the wheelchair out and get in it!

So, does ADA impact dealers today? In a nutshell – yes, in one way or another. For example, if you employ 15 or more people (not 50 or more as many believe) the business can’t discriminate in hiring and must make reasonable provisions to accommodate the disabled public. And, that’s no longer a small number. Today there are more than 50 million people, almost 20 percent of the U.S. population, considered disabled under the law, according to Steven D. Strauss, attorney, speaker and author of “The Small Business Bible” ( writing for USA Today.

The ADA was first passed in 1990 and rules have been revised many times, including recently, because of court decisions along the way. Strauss consulted with Barbara Otto, CEO of Think Beyond The Label, a national non-profit working to increase small business employment for people with disabilities. She contends complying with ADA should not be difficult for most small business and notes the following 5 recent changes for consideration:

Company Policy - Businesses are required to examine their policies to make sure they are non-discriminatory. She cites, for example, a clothing store that’s required under new guidelines to adjust a policy of permitting only one person in a dressing room if a disabled customer needed assistance from a companion.

Service Animals - The only animal considered a service animal is a dog. To be considered a service dog, the animal must perform tasks directly related to the person's disability, such as helping a blind person to navigate.

Mobility Devices - Businesses must allow the use of personal mobility devices such as Segways, golf carts, or other devices intended to operate in non-pedestrian areas, except if the business can demonstrate a particular type of device cannot be accommodated because of legitimate safety requirements.

Communication Efforts - A small business is now expected to accommodate various communication efforts such as sign language, oral interpreters or assistive technology unless doing so would result in a significant expense.

Architectural Barriers – Financially, this could affect small business the most: A businesses providing goods and services to the public must remove "barriers to entry" and make interior changes enabling customers using mobility devices like wheel chairs to better navigate the location and easily reach merchandise.

There is little doubt that as our population ages, the number of Americans with a disability will only increase. Accordingly, ADA is something every dealer should take time to consider from both employment and customer viewpoints. That said, it’s equally important to understand that “reason” is supposed to prevail in this i.e. under ADA, a business does not have to provide an accommodation that would cause an "undue hardship."


Maine Boatbuilders Show opens tomorrow

In its second year in a new location, the Maine Boatbuilders Show opens tomorrow at 10 a.m. at the Portland Sports Complex. Sail and powerboats, plus engines and accessories will all be on display.