September 14, 2023


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that as of May 2023, 27% of adults in the United States have some sort of disability. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the definition of a person with a disability is “someone with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.” Conservatively, that’s at least 70 million people aged 18 and older.

The vast majority of disabled persons work and contribute to the economy, buying items and services in person or online. Like all of us, sometimes they run into difficulties making a purchase. Often the issue can be resolved easily and quickly.

But not always. In the area of public accommodations, tenant obligations, real estate transactions and construction, oftentimes, the requirements and obligations are not black or white and, therefore, require expertise and experience to understand and ensure their proper application.

Fortunately, Meltzer, Purtill and Stelle now has three attorneys on staff who have unusually unique and deep experience with the ADA – Fred Kaplan, Charles Valente, and Heather Kuhn O’Toole. They arrived earlier this year when their prior firm was acquired by MPS, and bring considerable breadth and depth of ADA and ADA-related experience to the MPS team. Together, the three have more than 60 years of experience helping clients respond to a wide array of situations involving the application of federal, state, and municipal laws concerning the accessibility of buildings and the rights of disabled persons in places of public accommodation. By way of example, the group has handled matters concerning:

  • The accessibility of websites.
  • Any number of a business’s policies, practices, and procedures, including with respect to service animals, Segways, hoverboards and other power-driven mobility device policies, and Covid-era face mask mandates and policies.
  • Department of Justice investigations.
  • State governmental agency investigations.
  • Defending businesses in in individual lawsuits in jurisdictions across the country alleging ADA and/or state counterpart accessibility law violations.
  • Defending businesses in jurisdictions across the country in class action lawsuits alleging ADA and/or state counterpart accessibility law violations.
  • Consulting with architects, design professionals, and local building officials regarding the interpretation and proper application of the ADA’s accessibility code, as well as various state and local accessibility code, requirements.

The team also frequently prepares and presents seminars and develops other educational tools to help our clients better understand their ADA obligations and to assist their design professionals in interpreting both the ADA’s accessibility requirements, as well as state and local accessibility codes.

Our team’s decades long experience in working with the ADA, the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG), and state and local disability rights laws and accessibility codes, is truly one-of-a kind among law firms who practice in this area.

O’Toole recounted a case they worked on involving Segways and other power-driven mobility devices inside a national retailer’s stores. “Our thinking about whether our client was required to permit the use of Segways within its stores evolved over time because the technology changed. The changes in the devices affected our view about whether the devices could be safely operated in a busy retail environment and whether our client was required to accommodate them. We used our experience and knowledge in the area to develop a tailored, ADA compliant ‘Segway’ policy for our client.”

The group also has considerable experience helping clients respond to “serial plaintiffs.” Valente explained: “After we assess the situation, in many instances we can resolve the issue quickly and easily so that it is deemed moot by the court.”

Website accessibility is yet another area that can often trip up businesses that provide products or services to the public. “There are no governmentally mandated standards to follow regarding websites, but there do exist best practice protocols that are widely followed” Kaplan observed. He, Valente, and O’Toole understand the prevailing protocols, stay abreast of legislative developments in this area, and are able to help clients navigate the murky waters of website accessibility issues.

The team excels at helping clients understand their ADA obligations and address them in a way that is both compliant but tailored to address the client’s business goals and objectives. Kaplan summed up their philosophy this way:

“Many of these issues are not black and white. You have to be comfortable with the gray. We help clients find a way forward through the gray in areas that are complex and oftentimes in flux. We’ve been doing this a long time, all across the country and even in Canada. Our depth of knowledge on accessibility issues is extensive. We welcome conversations with our colleagues and potential clients about issues that concern them in this space.”

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