Many vending operators were taken aback when they learned what the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations could mean for the vending industry during a presentation at the National Automatic Merchandising Association OneShow at the Venetian Sands resort in Las Vegas. Operators learned about the new set of regulations that took effect March 15, 2012 during a presentation by an attorney who specializes in disabilities law.
The attorney, Carolyn Doppelt Gray, special counsel for accessibility and accommodations, government regulatory compliance and regulations for Proskauer Rose LLP in Washington, D.C., spoke during a meeting on federal legislation.
Several operators commented that the law is unreasonable, potentially very destructive for vending, and wondered what could be done to change it.
Gray began her remarks noting that the ADA is a civil rights law. She said it is a wide ranging law encompassing state governments, local governments, employees and public accommodations.
“Any place you put your machines, they fall under ADA,” she said.
A person is defined as disabled if they have a “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities,” she said.
She said the act prohibits discrimination by employers against disabled individuals.
The act guarantees disabled people full and equal enjoyment of goods and services, facilities and privileges.
“There is absolutely no place that is free of being covered by Title 3 of ADA,” she said.
The new requirements mandate the side reach range must now be no higher than 48 inches (instead of 54 inches) and no lower than 15 inches (instead of 9 inches).
Vending machines that do not meet the new side reach requirements are not in violation of the law, providing they remain where they are. But if a machine is replaced, it must meet the new reach requirements. If a machine is moved to another location, it must meet the new requirements.
Standards apply to fixed equipment. This is equipment built into the structure, attached to the wall or floor; not equipment that is freestanding.
One aspect of the law that is clear, Gray noted, is whether or not a vending machine that does not have a water line is considered a “fixed asset.” A machine with a water line is considered a fixed asset. What’s not clear is whether or not being plugged into an electrical outlet makes a machine a fixed asset.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said in a March Webcast produced by NAMA that a machine is not considered fixed just by being plugged into a wall.
A machine with any type of alteration, such as installing a cashless reader, must meet the new requirements, Gray said.
If a vending operator has a compliant machine in a location and a non-compliant machine in another part of the building, the non-compliant machine will be in violation if the compliant machine is not accessible to people at a time when the non-compliant machine is accessible, according to Gray.
This is because someone will be denied access to the compliant machine, Gray noted.
The spokesman for the Department of Justice who delivered a March, 2012 NAMA Webinar said machines on different floors are considered to be serving different groups of people.
The vending operator must also make the same product offerings available in all areas within a certain location, Gray said. The vending machines cannot have less variety in one area than in another area.
“You’re responsible as much as the building owner,” she said.
If an operator provides several banks of machines at one location, at least one of each machine type (snack, food, beverage, coffee) must be ADA compliant, Gray said.
The law also requires vending machines to be removed to allow access to the disabled.
Compliance is required for new construction and altered buildings.
“There is no automatic grandfathering” for non-compliant machines, Gray said.
Vending machines must be accessible by a minimum 36-wide walking space.
Operators in attendance raised a lot of questions about the law.
When asked how the law will be enforced, Gray said the U.S. Department of Justice will be looking at what types of violations exist. If they see a pattern of violations, they will investigate certain organizations and possibly bring legal action.
Private attorneys can also bring actions against companies, she said.
Asked if the location or the vending operator will be held liable for a violation, Gray said it will depend on the specific circumstances. She said vending operators should discuss the law with their locations.