Does Your County Fair Meet ADA Accessibility Regulations?
It is County Fair season again. Typically, this is a good time for all. Fun rides, decadent food, cute animals raised by local kids, special events, concerts and an eclectic variety of vendors. Unfortunately, County Fairs can be an accessibility nightmare for persons with disabilities. On one level, this is odd. Because the County Fairs are set up anew each year, many of the Fair events are subject to a new construction/new program standard. Under the American with Disabilities Act, many of the elements–vendor booths, competition sites, shows–should be thoroughly accessible. On the other hand, many of these vendors and performers are using equipment, stands, booths and counters that they have used for decades without any thought about ADA accessibility regulations. County Fairs often escape scrutiny because of their temporary nature. When something is here today, gone tomorrow, it is not easy to investigate, document or challenge.
Not only do County Fairs present a mixture of new and old elements but the responsible parties are mixed. Most fairgrounds are owned by the State of California even though their name would suggest county ownership. Whether the State of California or the local County owns the fairgrounds, they have the same duty. Under Title II of the ADA, these public entities must ensure that the County Fairs are accessible to persons with disabilities. It does not matter whether these public entities operate the fairs themselves or enter into concession and operating agreements with a fair association or local merchant groups, they have a federal civil rights mandate to ensure that the program is accessible. Similarly, the merchant themselves and any private operating groups have a duty under Title III of the ADA to ensure that the Fair and each of its open-to-the-public elements are accessible.
Fairs are big business. The L.A. County Fair, for example, which is operated by the Los Angeles County Fair Association, covers over two square miles of fairgrounds (the Fairplex) and is estimated to generate an annual national economic impact of more than $250 million . . . roughly the equivalent of hosting a Super Bowl. Over 1.3 million persons attended the 2014 Fair. Thus, it is unconscionable that County Fairs can remain inaccessible to persons with disabilities more than 25 years after the passage of the American with Disabilities Act. But they will unless we do something about it.
Because of the unique circumstances of County Fairs, it is difficult to investigate and challenge inaccessible conditions. Not only are County Fairs open for short periods of time but under the California Government Code, a claim must be made within six months. But the solution is easy. If you run into discriminatory barriers or inaccessible conditions, call us right away so that we can get an investigator out while the Fair is still open. If you can take a photograph or document the barriers in some way, this is tremendously helpful in the enforcement effort.
There are two components to enforcing the great promise of the American with Disabilities Act:
(1) Being aware of your rights
(2) Being willing to take a stand.
When you attend your local County Fair this year, be aware that federal law requires these Fairs be accessible. You do not have to suffer with inaccessible parking, paths of travel, seating, lines of sight at concerts and other special performances, counter heights, restrooms and the like. If you do run into these illegal and discriminatory conditions, be prepared to take some photographs and to report the violations to our office. We all have our specialties–this is ours. Let us do what we do best so that you can enjoy accessible fairs in the years to come.
Enforce Your Right to Access!
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.