Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Miniature Horses, Golf Courses, and Allotments of Common Sense

A recent news story highlights another aspect of the Americans with Disabilities Act that occasionally touches on employment law- ADA public accommodation rules, which are found in the regulations entitled "Nondiscrimination on the Basis of Disability in Public Accommodations and Commercial Facilities" , a guide published by the Department of Justice.

These are the regulations that have plenty of good intention, but in practice frequently create what I would characterize as absurd results. Case in point-a requirement for business establishments, including restaurants, to accommodate so-called "guide or companion miniature horses" for people who, out of choice, allergy, or religious belief (Muslims, for example, frequently do not want to use guide dogs) can't use a guide or companion dog. In an apparent effort to "normalize" the presence of novelty animals, the regulations note that people have traveled, including air travel, with miniature horses, as if this were an everyday and relatively inconsequential event.

Personal note-I have yet to get on an airplane with a horse, miniature or otherwise. I would bet that no one in the DOJ has, either.  And I can't imagine the accommodation that would be necessary for other passengers who found a horse in the seat next to them.

There are some similarly problematic requirements for miniature golf courses (you can't have too much slope on the putting areas), shooting ranges (accommodations have to be made so that the disabled can shoot in all positions.  Really? Even the prone position?), and health clubs. Unfortunately, what seems to be missing from the analysis is some type of cost-benefit assessment. I'd like to know whether someone at the DOJ had to account for whether it makes economic sense for these establishments to make thousands of dollars in retrofit adjustments for the benefit of relatively few users. Or whether it makes sense for airlines to put a "horse friendly" seating area on every airplane. At some point there will be some type of public backlash. But I think we'll have to see how this initiative plays out in terms of enforcement actions before we get a real feel for the true cost of compliance.

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