Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan has filed suit against an Illinois video store chain alleging that every single one of the company's 70 stores statewide has broken state law by failing to provide access to customers with physical disabilities.
The obstacles range from sales counters too high for would-be movie watchers in wheelchairs to pay cashiers to entrance routes partially blocked by vending machines.
Madigan's suit, filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court, alleges Springfield-based Family Video Movie Club, Inc., has violated disability laws governing access to public facilities, including retail stores.
The Illinois Environmental Barriers Act and the Illinois Accessibility Code require that public facilities constructed or altered after 1988 be accessible to people with disabilities.
Madigan's Disability Rights Bureau protects the rights of people with disabilities. On June 29, Madigan reached a record settlement with Walgreen Co. to resolve a suit filed last year alleging that many of the popular chain's more than 400 Illinois drug stores had barriers that limited access for individuals with disabilities.
"The law could not be more clear," Madigan said. "People with disabilities should be able to conduct business in a public place just like anyone else. Most of us rent movies at one time or another and any failure to provide that opportunity to all citizens is inexcusable."
To document the alleged violations, Madigan's office inspected 64 of Family Video's approximately 70 Illinois outlets between June 2002 and October 2003. Because the remaining six stores that were not inspected share the same standard design as the other stores, Madigan's complaint alleges the design flaws have resulted in one or more violations at every Family Video location in Illinois. Some of the alleged violations include:
- Counters that are so high that both employees and customers with disabilities would have to transact business on countertops above their heads. Also, a four-inch step that prevents a wheelchair user from accessing the employee work area behind the counters at all Family Video stores.
- Parking spaces designated as accessible that do not meet mandatory width requirements, making it difficult or impossible for a person with a disability to open a vehicle door wide enough to exit a parked car.
- Accessible parking spaces that are located on an incline that is too steep to allow a disabled person to stabilize a wheelchair and transfer into it from a car. Also, designated parking access aisles that are not level, making it difficult to deploy van lifts and transfer persons with disabilities out of a van.
- Not enough accessible parking spaces are available for people with disabilities.
- Spaces designated accessible that are not located on the shortest path of travel to the entrance as required by law, which could force individuals with disabilities such as heart and lung conditions or chronic pain to walk dangerous distances to access the store.
- Entrances and exits that exceed the maximum force needed to push or pull open a door and sidewalks and entrances obstructed by vending machines, trash containers and flower pots. Both violations make it impossible for a disabled person to use the sidewalk and enter or exit the stores.
- Accessible parking spaces that do not display the proper Department of Transportation R7-8 reserved accessible parking sign and do not post a fine for illegal use of accessible parking spaces by non-disabled individuals.
- Paths of travel to the video store entrances that have ramps so steep they could prevent a disabled person from accessing the store areas from the street or parking lot.
"Complaints against Family Video filed in our office date back to 1997. The company has been afforded every opportunity to correct these serious violations of the law," Madigan said. "Not only is the company risking its bottom line in court, it's risking its bottom line by denying access to potential customers."
The suit seeks to order Family Video (1) to conduct a statewide survey of all its stores and document existing violations of the Illinois Accessibility Code and (2) to correct all violations and (3) to pay fines, penalties and costs of up to $250 per day for each violation of accessibility laws.