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Elevator access is covered in disability law


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POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

Question: I daily visit a two-story fast-food restaurant that has restrooms and dining on the second floor. My knees are bad, and I carry a heavy computer bag, so I use the elevator. The elevator has front and rear doors, one for passengers and one for service. Too frequently the people using the service side lock the passenger door while moving inventory, leaving me with no choice but to go down the stairs. A similar situation occurs at a store in Pearlridge Center. Although it doesn't close until 9 p.m. or later, the elevator is locked at 8:45 p.m., stranding customers parked on the first level. Is it legal for passenger doors to be locked during business hours?

Answer: There's really no law specifying how the elevator is to be used; however, this is an issue covered under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

From the standpoint of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations' Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health staff, locking the passenger-side elevator door while moving inventory is a good safety practice, said department spokesman Ryan Markham.

Elevator inspectors are interested in the safe running and maintenance of the elevator car itself, he said.

“;The way it's being used, so far as inventory moving goes, would only trigger (occupational safety) concern if they were overloading the elevator,”; Markham said.

The state's elevator code does not have any specific standards for operating and use times.

All that said, the ADA would be applicable, although there is no specific phrase that “;exactly and directly addresses the issue,”; said Francine Wai, executive director of the state Disability and Communication Access Board.

A store and shopping mall are considered places of public accommodation, so their goods and services must be accessible to people with disabilities. The aim of the ADA is to provide equal access.

“;An elevator is considered part of an accessible route to move people between levels in lieu of stairs just as much as a front door is part of an accessible route into the store and a hallway is part of an accessible route within the store,”; Wai said.

The ADA has a provision about “;maintenance of accessible features,”; where it is permissible to have an inoperable elevator during a short period of repair, she said.

In the cases you describe, however, repair and maintenance are not at issue: “;This is a shutdown of the accessible route,”; Wai said. “;If this is the route that people with disabilities must use to access and exit from the goods and services, then it should remain open during the equivalent hours that the other routes (i.e., the stairs) are open to the general population.”;

“;Also, it would also be wrong to ask people with disabilities to leave earlier than other patrons just because the store or shopping center wants to shut down the accessible route,”; she said.

Wai emphasized that she was providing technical assistance, not legal advice.

You might want to take a copy of this column to show to the store managers and suggest calling Wai's office (586-8121) if they have questions.

If nothing changes, you could file formal complaints with either the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission or the Hawaii Disability Rights Commission.

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