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New York Restaurants Reviewed for ADA Compliance

The United States Attorney’s office for Manhattan plans to review more than 50 of New York’s most popular restaurants, as rated by the 2011 Zagat Guide, to find out if they are compliant with the American Disabilities Act of 1990.

“New York City is considered the restaurant capital of the world, and we want to make sure that there isn’t anyone who would be unjustly denied of the chance to enjoy its first-rate dining offers,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “We would take the necessary legal moves to ensure that the law is being complied with.”

The U.S. Attorney’s office already sent 17-page letters to the restaurants, consisting of more than one hundred ADA-compliance questions that they needed to reply to by October 28. The questions include how many wheelchair-accessible tables that have window views are available for the disabled; whether the dining places have mechanisms that allow restaurant hosts to take reservations from diners who have speech impairments or are deaf; and whether the restaurant has prepared special menus, that could be made available for the blind. There are several questions in the letter that need the guidance of a legal counsel.

Inspectors will then be sent out to confirm the restaurants’ responses. If violations are discovered, restaurant operators will have to submit a voluntary compliance agreement wherein they will assure the city government that they will upgrade their facilities to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines, or the ADAAG. If the establishment fails to enter into such agreement, or if, after given a chance they still fail to put together the necessary improvements, they would be filed a case by the U.S. Attorney’s office’s civil-rights unit.

“This might prove to be a problem, as many restaurants in the city are situated in buildings that are landmarked, making it impossible for these dining places to comply with the ADA rules,“ said Carolyn Richmond, restaurant attorney of law firm Fox Rothschild. “The status of the building as a city landmark prohibits it from having a ramp built within its premises.”

Prosecutors said that the compliance review is not prompted by any particular complaint; it’s just mandated by law. “The Americans with Disabilities Act has been passed more than two decades ago, and enough time has been given to public accommodations, like restaurants, to comply with this essential civil rights regulation,” said Mr. Bharara.

He also added that he has high hopes that the restaurants which are found to be “acutely deficient” would willingly improve their facilities rather than pay possible fines or face litigation.

Gerald San Jose, a spokesman of one of the top-ranked dining places in the city Per Se, said, “We had accessibility in mind when we designed our restaurant. Our wait staff in elegant, quality restaurant uniforms can roll a wheelchair from our entrance to our table without problems, but yes, we shall definitely voluntarily upgrade our facilities if they think we are out of compliance.”

The same office has conducted an accessibility evaluation of about 50 hotels in 2005. After the review, 33 hotels successfully complied with the regulation and made their lodgings more accessible to their disabled guests.