FRESNO, California – The City of Fresno has launched a new program to help small businesses be more accessible to disabled customers.
The city said the Central Valley is third in the state for having the most construction-related physical access complaints. The city said it plans to help businesses avoid costly lawsuits.
The Valero Gas Station and mini mart near Ventura and First is known to loyal customers as Tony’s One Stop Shop.
Owner Tony Singh said, “We do hard work, you know? All family work, you know? My kids help me too, you know? We, that’s why we lot of successful because we do lot of hours.”
Singh has owned his small business for 12 years. But it was in 2014 when he wasn’t sure if he would be able to stay afloat.
“We do hard work for money, and they sue, sue, like too much problem right now,” stated Singh.
Singh was hit with two Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits, that claimed his business did not have sufficient handicap parking spots, and the public restroom was not ADA compliant.
Shannon Mulhall is with Fresno’s Department of Public Works. She said, “Yes, it’s costly, but there are programs out there to help, and there’s financial assistance.”
Mulhall has helped to launch the city’s “Accessible Fresno Small Business Initiative” program.
“We’re coming in with these kind of programs to say, ‘Look businesses, we want you to stay in business, and part of doing business is being compliant’,” commented Mulhall.
Mulhall said the key is to be proactive. One of their goals is to educate business owners on what it means to be ADA compliant with federal and state laws.
Many businesses will turn to “certified access specialists” like David Horn. Horn, who is with Yamabe & Horn Engineering, Inc., will examine a business’s interior and exterior and write up a confidential report. That report will give business owners an idea on what they need to fix.
“Some of the not so obvious requirements might be when you walk up to the door and you have to push the door open. Are you pushing too hard? Is it too heavy?” questioned Horn.
Horn said an assessment can cost anywhere between $500 to $2,000, depending on the size of the business.
He stated, “It’s my opinion that that is the best way to not be at a risk for these lawsuits.”
But many small businesses may not have the money to get that costly assessment, said Mulhall, which is why the city is stepping in.
She ended, “We are providing small businesses that are eligible with a free CASP assessment.”
The city said courts look favorably upon proactive businesses that have a plan of action to fix their building even if the plan is not yet finished.
Singh wishes he could turn back time and get ahead of the litigation that has set him back thousands of dollars.
“We hired attorney, they settlement like almost, I spent, I think $12,000,” said Singh.
But Singh said he understands being ADA accessible is not only the law, but a way to ensure all his customers are safe.