Expert: Villages violates ADA

Disabled advocate urges couple to sue over access

COURTESY : Daily Commercial
By Megan Shannon
Published November 18, 2005

THE VILLAGES — An Americans with Disabilities Act specialist is urging a Villages couple to sue The Villages’ administration after noting dozens of ADA violations.

Fred Shotz, a federal court-approved expert in ADA law, made a surprise visit to The Villages Thursday and noted ADA violations in Spanish Springs Market Square restaurants, retail stores, and parking lots.

Residents Bill and Betty Burkey have been battling with The Villages administration for years asking them to fix the violations. But in the meantime, they gave up enjoying their favorite restaurants since Bill, who has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, cannot easily maneuver inside the facilities.

They said they have been patient, but that might soon change.

“This is ridiculous,” Shotz said as he toured Cafe Ole in Spanish Springs.

The ramp leading to the outdoor patio was blocked by a table and chairs, which Shotz said was poor maintenance of the path of travel. After inspecting the men’s rest room, Shotz noted three violations. He said he would not be able to use the lavatory or the sink to wash his hands from his wheelchair.

Shotz said the Community Development District and the owner of the restaurant would be responsible for the violation. He said there is no excuse for the violations, since most of the construction in Spanish Springs occurred after 1992, when ADA law came into effect.

“I can understand if it was built before that. At least there would be a reason,” he said. “Now I know they are not acting in good faith.”

After many hours of inspection, Shotz noted that many parking lots did not have enough handicapped parking spaces, and even the ones that did sometimes did not put the spaces in the right location.

Shots also paid Zirbes Emporium a visit and was disappointed when his wheelchair could not fit through some of the aisles. He said all aisles must be three feet wide.

“If I would go through that aisle, I would knock the merchandise over,” he said.

Shotz told the Burkeys that if they want compliance, a lawsuit must be filed. He said that of the 400 facilities he has cited as being out of ADA compliance, only four made corrections without litigation. He said he gave the rest of the facilities two years to comply before filing suit.

“People do not respond unless there is litigation,” he said. “I’ve seen it one hundred times. You don’t want to keep asking for things and have it done half-assed.”

Shotz said he has been involved with more than 1,500 law suits against entities who violate ADA law and only three have won.

The Burkeys are not ready to sue right away. They told Shotz they would like to have a meeting with Wahl, Shotz and their attorneys.

“We want them to comply, but we don’t want them to be surprised,” Bill said.

Shotz said it would cost tens of thousands of dollars to fix all the violations he noted, which is why he speculates the administration is would be in no hurry to comply.

The Burkeys say they have heard it all from District Administrator Pete Wahl. They said Wahl told them a year ago that the parking lot behind Panera Bread Restaurant would be restriped to spread out the handicapped parking.

Since The Daily Commercial reported on the possible violations in July, Betty said no changes have been made.

All the handicapped parking behind Panera Bread Restaurant is on one side of the back lot, but serves many facilities. Wahl said they use an aggregate counting system, meaning they add all the parking spaces in the area and then attribute the appropriate number of handicapped spaces to that number.

“They are so stingy,” Betty said.

Shotz said that method is not ADA-compliant. Each individual business should have its own number of designated handicap spots, he said.

“As the number of parking spaces increase, the number of handicapped parking spaces declines,” he said. “I’m sure that’s why they do it that way. That’s totally against the law.”

Wahl said he has no comment on the alleged violations until an ADA report is filed.

The lack of curb cut outs in the intersection across from Panera Bread and Ruby Tuesdays is what the Burkeys say frustrates them the most. In fact, they are not only frustrated, but are fearful that this violation could result in injury. In order for Bill to get from Ruby Tuesday’s Restaurant to the Panera Bread Restaurant across the street, he must travel one block along the street, after crossing traffic without a cross walk.

Shotz said this is a violation of ADA Title II, which requires all programs and services to be accessible to the disabled.

Betty said she and her husband do not have this kind of trouble outside of The Villages.

“I don’t see this anywhere else,” she said.