Business owners being hit with lawsuits being forced to pay thousands or even close down

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Valley businesses are being hit with lawsuits for not being accessible. The Central Valley region ranks number three in the state with the number of lawsuits filed stemming from the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Fresno business Senor Aji Peruvian Bistro opened its doors two years ago, but the owners have learned a lot about being accessible. They're compliant with the law.

"That was a good thing for us to learn. We need, or have, all these kind of things especially with the door and or the access for them from the parking lot," said Lilian Arizola of Senor Aji Peruvian Bistro.

From doors to bathrooms, the space at Senor Aji's is ADA accessible. However, nearly 300 businesses a month in California are hit with ADA lawsuits.

"These businesses are confused, they're scared, and then they're devastated because these lawsuits-- some of them are $25,000 to $15,000," said Dora Westerlund, Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation CEO.

Westerlund said those fines are causing some to close their doors or lay off employees.

The city has just launched the "Accessible Fresno Small Business Initiative," a proactive program to help owners have their business surveyed before they're hit with the costly lawsuits.

"Get a certified Access Specialist Assessment that not only tells a business what they need to do to get in compliance, it provides legal protections if they do receive an accessibility compliant," said Fresno ADA Coordinator Shannon Mulhall.

The city is also paying for inspections for small businesses so they will be compliant. The fee is normally around $1,500 all paid for by the city.

"That $1,500 that they don't have to spend now, they can work on the parking lot. They can work on their doors and their bathrooms and make sure they're making those businesses complaint," Mulhall said.

People can apply for the free program until May 9th.

The Hispanic Foundation is urging businesses to take advantage of the inspection. They said a majority of people calling them are minority-run businesses, who can be taken advantage of.

Business Owners can learn about the requirements and the program. An ADA roundtable is being held Tuesday, April 24th at Central Valley SCORE.

Americans with Disabilities Roundtable
Tuesday, April 24 9 AM - 11 AM
Central Valley SCORE
801 R ST. Ste 102
Fresno, CA
Phone: 559-487-5605

Accessible Fresno
Phone: 559-621-8716

Fresno Area Hispanic Foundation
Phone: 559-222-8705
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