I have entered a lot of restaurants over the years through the kitchen door.

Many establishments had steps to the front door or other barriers that didn’t allow easy access when I accompanied a friend who used a wheelchair or other mobility device. But the kitchen door entrance usually was ramped to allow easy access for deliverymen.

Some of the inaccessible restaurants in New Mexico were in historic buildings, and others were built prior to the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, which developed and enforces the American with Disabilities Act, barrier removal is required for businesses if it is “readily achievable” and would not threaten the historic significance of a building.

Architects try to preserve the intended experience of a historic site when adding accessible features for customers with disabilities.

It is important that both the outside and inside of the building are accessible.

Historic sites draw visitors that help the local economy.

Local government has a role in supporting businesses making improvements and ensuring the route to a business — such as a city street or sidewalk — also can accommodate mobility devices.

Often, when restrooms are part of the character of a historic building and cannot be readily modified, an establishment builds an accessible, unisex restroom elsewhere.

Whenever possible, local government needs to be involved in the design solutions, including the use of on-grade entrances or low-slope ramps to avoid a requirement for railings at abrupt level changes.

“Readily achievable” is defined by the ADA as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”

A ramp or lift can be easily installed in many facilities without much expense to a business.

After the ADA became law in 1990, the 1991 Standards for Accessible Design were developed. The most recent version of the ADA Title III regulations is the 2010 Standards for Accessible Design.

The ADA Accessibility Guidelines are flexible when applied to historic buildings.

Still, a public accommodation is required to remove architectural barriers, including communication barriers, such as conventional signage that is inaccessible to the blind and those with low vision, and audio systems, which are inaccessible to people with hearing impairments.

The Justice Department’s Checklist for Readily Achievable Barrier Removal is a useful self-survey on facility accessibility and is available at ada.gov/racheck.pdf.

Updated in 1995, the checklist doesn’t include the 2010 ADA standards, but most of the regulatory requirements are included.

The Justice Department recommends each public accommodation have an implementation plan to identify the steps to eliminate barriers and a timeline for undertaking the improvements.

The implementation plan may serve as a piece of evidence showing a “good faith effort to comply,” according to the department.

Today, most restaurants are accessible and meet the requirements of 2010 ADA Standards.

Still, staff must be properly trained and prepared to serve patrons with disabilities.

Staff should be patient and offer any additional assistance required for customers with disabilities and always make them feel welcome and comfortable.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center. He can be reached at a@winnegar.com.

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