An Annapolis firm has begun taking one of the nation's most comprehensive looks at a new law aimed at eliminating barriers of all types for the disabled.
Robert G. Kramer & Associates Inc. has won a contract to monitor the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires nearly all U.S. businesses, governments and other groups to eliminate discrimination in employment, public accommodations, public transportation and telecommunications.
The National Council on Disability, which helped draft the ADA and will advise the president and Congress on the law, has asked Kramer& Associates to study the law as it takes effect in several stages.
Kramer & Associates' study, the ADA Watch, will become "a voice for all parties affected," said Robert G. Kramer, the firm's president.
The management consultants, who also deal with health care, environmental and housing issues, will study the law's effect on the disabled, as well as on businesses, state and local governments and non-profit groups. The company will earn $200,000 for the first year of an expected three-year project.
Among other things, Kramer & Associates will look at how businesses interpret the law and take steps to comply, how the disabled and the courts interpret the law, whether the law actually erases barriers and whether it places an undue burden onbusinesses and other groups.
To do that, the firm is setting up ahuge network of national groups representing both the disabled and the business community, such as the National Association of Manufacturers, United Cerebral Palsy, Easter Seals, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
ADA Watchwill rely on feedback from those groups to compile the first of three reports over three years for the disability council, which will in turn advise the president and Congress.
It's too early to spot trends or draw conclusions, Kramer said. The first phase of the act, governing public accommodations, took effect at the end of January.
That part of the act requires anything open to the public, such as hotels, department stores and fast-food restaurants, to be accessible tothe disabled.
The act calls for such public operations to do all that is "readily achievable," which means that more would be requiredof a large corporation than of a small business, project director Timothy L. Jones said.
Requirements could include paper-cup dispensers at water fountains, replacing steps with ramps, moving tables to widen aisles and installing automatic doors.
The law was purposely worded vaguely to allow for compliance on a case-by-case basis, Kramer said. But some businesses have feared vagueness would lead to widely varying interpretations, leaving businesses open to lawsuits or requiring costly changes.
"The language is loose or deliberately vague to allow flexibility," Kramer said. "The down side is you don't know what to expect. It creates some anxiety. Whether it's well-founded remains to be seen."
Jones said Kramer & Associates is seeking examples of how businesses are complying, especially by using creative, as opposed to expensive, alternatives.
Kramer said his consultantsplan to use Anne Arundel County and Annapolis as minilaboratories. Already, Annapolis shop owners have phoned asking what they'll be required to do.
The next phase, employment, takes effect in July and applies to businesses with 25 or more workers. It is designed to eliminate discrimination against anyone with a physical or mental disability. That includes anyone with AIDS or with a prior history of substance abuse.