Peter M. Robertson, MA CPCM
October 8, 1992
First Published in The National Focus Vol. 5, No. 1 Sept/Oct '92 Issue With a Different Title:
“What’s an “ADA” Consultant”
Today we are witnessing a steady increase in the amount of barrier identification, barrier removal/access accommodation and management plan activity throughout the country, similar to that which followed the passage of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. With encouragement from individuals with disabilities and passage of the Americans With Disabilities (ADA), public agencies, private entities and professionals are realizing that creating, managing and marketing accessibility will be an important element of a successful operation in the 90's and ad infinitum. Some of these entities are taking a proactive stance with respect to access partly because they recognize that by voluntarily offering accessible environments they can attract a larger, more diverse population and simultaneously satisfy legal requirements for equal access. To accomplish their goal(s), some of the entities covered by the ADA are seeking advice. With so many new and diverse entities offering "ADA" help these days (law firms, design firms, vocational firms, human & government services) how does the new, typically uninformed consumer group (public and private entities) make a choice and rest assured that they are getting the quality resources or qualified help they need?
Needless to say, the number of volunteers, professionals and organizations offering resource materials, advice or training on disability, accessibility and/or the ADA has increased dramatically. There isn't a week that goes by without something crossing my desk about materials, access products or someone new offering advice or services to help others understand and comply with the ADA. The ones that really rub me the wrong way are those that employ what I consider "scare tactics" to promote sales, you know, "It's The Law". While compliance with the ADA (and other access laws) is important, the real issue is creating and offering accessible and usable environments that benefit everyone, including private & public sector businesses.
Knowing the kind of assistance you need is a critical factor in making an informed consumer decision. A logical place to start is with identification of barriers. Issues of "accessibility" will cross every element of today's public and private operations including: architectural, communication, public relations, employment, and transportation environments. You'll also likely want some help with barrier removal & access accommodation transition plans, barrier & disability awareness training, design/construction document access checks, and access product research & acquisition. Many of those offering "ADA" services specialize in one or two of these areas. Consider a resource(s) that can help with all of these areas simultaneously. It typically proves to be the most efficient and cost-effective approach to creating accessible environments.
Be diligent about checking the qualifications, references and track record of who you would be working with. While addressing a group at a recent seminar offered by the California Governor's Committee on Employment of People With Disabilities, June Isaacson Kailes, a nationally renowned Disability Policy Consultant said, "In Washington DC., they have identified a phenomena fostered by the passage of the ADA and that's the reemergence of the Snake Oil Sales People as ADA Consultants." She goes on to say, "Be leery of people who are labeling themselves as 'ADA Specialists'. It could mean they have only worked in the field for two years or less and that's not very long when it comes to disability work." June suggested the following criteria for consumers to consider: People who have a long and broad disability related background, People with a strong information and resource network who can activate the network quickly, People who know the purpose and intent of the regulations: not just what they say, People who are familiar with state and local disability/access regulations, and, perhaps most importantly, People who have done the type of work before. Ms. Kailes strongly recommends contacting former clients/ users of the resources you are considering to see if they were satisfied with what they got.
The sudden influx of "ADA" experts in what not-so-long-ago was a relatively small pool of access specialists has, justifiably, created concern. For example:
"While the experts may be coming out of the woodwork, a flock of 'em are crawling out from under rocks."
"Much initial effort focuses on battling the misinformation from consultants."
Statements like these coupled with my own observations of the recent developments in the field of accessology lead me to believe that an association of accessibility specialists (volunteer or professional) will one day emerge. Issues this association will address include: standards of excellence; ethical practices; a common body of knowledge and disciplines; certification criteria and process; continuing education; and, advancing the field of accessology itself. Such an association could help consumers (public or private entities) make an informed decision when seeking help with developing or managing an access accommodation plan. This would, in turn, lend towards achieving the ultimate goal our society has set via the ADA and other federal and state equal access laws - uniform and comprehensively accessible environments for all.
Perhaps as Keyplayers training a new generation of access specialists. individually or collectively, efforts like the ADA NETWORK Project of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and Independent Living Research Utilization (ILRU), the ADA Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers and other national and regional efforts will address some of these important issues.
In 1981 the National Center for A Barrier Free Environment published an article entitled, "Choosing An Accessibility Consultant" written by Barrier Free Environments, Inc. I got mine from the Paralyzed Veterans of America-Architecture & Barrier Free Design Department 202-872-1300. This article provides a more in-depth look at selecting a consultant to help you with your accessibility project(s). (I believe it came out about the time that public entities were finally getting around to sorting out and complying with the Rehabilitation Act.) It discusses the role that designers, persons with disabilities, service providers, code enforcement officials, contractors and manufacturers can play in an accessibility project and gives some good questions you can ask for each group. (Not included in the list are law firms or accessibility firms. I guess in those days law firms weren't interested in disability laws that only dealt (primarily) with public entities and there were only a few firms that specialized in accessibility.) If you are considering using an outside source as a member of your access project team, I strongly encourage you get a copy of this one!
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