Federal Judge Finds That CarMax Has a Legal Obligation under the ADA to Provide Vehicle Hand Controls for Test Driving Vehicles
The Americans with Disabilities Act became law in 1990. A broad and sweeping piece of civil rights legislation, it has improved the day-to-day lives of persons with disabilities in countless ways.
One of the obligations that businesses have under this federal civil rights statute is to remove physical barriers to persons with disabilities. It is fairly easy to identify the most common tasks required under the law. Projects such as reserving parking spaces for persons with disabilities, installing ramps, installing grab bars at toilets, providing lowered transaction counters, and widening doorways quickly come to mind.But what about vehicles?
Generally, the ADA does not require car rental agencies or car dealerships to modify their vehicles. There is one exception that the Center for Disability Access has been advocating for and it has been a veritable slugfest. It has to do with vehicle hand controls. The Center for Disability Access is currently representing several wheelchair using clients who are in the market to purchase a new or used car. They discovered that although the car dealerships provide their customers with the opportunity to test drive the vehicles before deciding on the purchase, they will not accommodate wheelchair users who want to enjoy the same privilege. The solution is simple: ensure that your dealership has access to and will install temporary vehicle hand controls upon request.
A number of big car dealerships in Southern California have refused to make this accommodation. A couple of federal judges agree with those dealerships and have ruled that there is no such obligation under the ADA. On the other hand, the Center for Disability Access has been in touch with the Department of Justice and acquired a technical assistance/position letter from the Department of Justice that this is, in fact, a required accommodation under the ADA. On April 13, 2015, United States District Judge James Lorenz rejected CarMax’s argument that the ADA did not require installation of vehicle hand controls and ruled that the plaintiff’s claims were plausible on their face and the case could proceed. Ultimately, the issue will be decided by the Ninth Circuit and the Center for Disability Access is confident that it will secure yet another precedent setting and important civil rights victory for persons with disabilities. It is very likely that in five years, wheelchair users will be able to test drive vehicles at dealerships just as ambulatory persons do–although that is not the case today.
This fight demonstrates a couple of important things. First, although the ADA has been around for 25 years, even sophisticated businesses fail to comply with its mandates and routinely adopt restrictive and unfair interpretations of their obligations under the law. Second, change will not happen without advocacy and enforcement.
If you are a person with a disability and encounter barriers to access, whether policy based or architectural in nature, please do not hesitate to consider your role as an advocate. Your decision to challenge unfair and discriminatory practices benefits numerous people that you will never meet. You have an effective and willing partner in this endeavor. The Center for Disability Access has been litigating these cases for two full decades. Whether it be consultation or representation, we represent our clients for free. Please don’t hesitate to call the Center to explore or discuss any issues that you have encountered.