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PREPARED STATEMENT OF CHRISTOPER J. HOEY, ASSISTANT TREASURER AND ASSISTANT
GENERAL COUNSEL, WOOLWORTH CORP., ON BEHALF OF THE INTERNATIONAL MASS RETAIL ASSOCIATION
I am Christopher J. Hoey, Assistant Secretary/Assistant General Counsel for the Woolworth Corporation, with which I have been associated for about 25 years, dealing with personnel and employment law issues. My company employs nearly 75,000 persons and operates 5,700 stores of various types and sizes, ranging from 2,200 square-foot jewelry boutiques to large downtown multi-level self-service general merchandise stores.
I am appearing here today on behalf of the International Mass Retail Association. IMRA is a trade association that represents 140 major discount retail chains. collectively, they do business in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands and represent an overwhelming majority of the $130 billion a year discount retail industry. Our members operate over 25,000 stores and employ well over a million individuals.
IMRA appreciates this opportunity to appear to express the views of the nation's mass retail industry on the "Americans with Disabilities Act“ (ADA). IMRA's comments today will deal almost exclusively with Title III's public accommodations provisions. We would welcome the opportunity to continue this dialogue on those provisions, and other portions of the bill where we can identify questions or concerns, in an effort to address particular issues of how the bill can best serve disabled citizens while at the same time recognizing legitimate business concerns.
The ADA aims at the very laudable objective and important goal of bringing disabled persons fully as possible into the mainstream of American life. IMRA completely shares that objective and endorses that goal.
Achieving it will not only benefit disabled persons, but the entire nation. Our businesses are always looking for capable workers; our stores obviously have a compelling interest in attracting and serving customers.
No matter how praiseworthy ADA's intentions are, and how desirable its aims, your duty, and ours, is to examine how well it will work in practice. By resolving some practical questions about ADA's effects in some areas, and by fixing some provisions in the bill as presently drawn that are ambiguous, imperfectly drawn or have insufficiently considered likely adverse effects, this subcommittee can improve ADA by making it more effective, more predictable, and less needlessly burdensome.
IMRA's questions and suggestions on public accommodations fall into four main areas: (1) identifying ADA's specific requirements for existing buildings and the costs they impose, (2) setting the most productive and realistic standard for analyzing what actions are 'readily achievable, (3) ensuring that building operators have sufficient flexibility to develop the most workable alternatives, and (4) clarifying the coverage for new construction.
Our analysis will draw the Senate-passed bill, and accompanying report, since we believe that s. 933 will and should be the starting point for consideration of ADA in this subcommittee and in the House.
Specific requirements and costs for existing buildings
At the outset, IMRA notes that while concerns have been raised about the potential costs that will be occasioned by ADA in such areas as transportation and telecommunications, similar study does not appear to have been made of the costs that ADA's public accommodations provisions may impose. The sketchy estimates in the Senate Committee's report, for instance, estimate the costs of accommodations in employment (it says that 498 of disabled workers may need accommodation with a cost. impact, and the costs may exceed
construction (it estimates up to 18 of budget).
No estimate was
made, however, for the costs of what public accommodations may be needed in existing buildings. IMRA respectfully suggests that the Committees considering the ADA request a cost-analysis as quickly as possible from an appropriate government agency.
With what we hope is considerable understatement, the Senate report on s. 933 noted that "Witnesses recognized that it is probably not feasible to require that existing facilities be completely retrofitted to be made accessible.. While the report also contains a number of statements stressing that ADA's intent is require changes to existing buildings used by public accommodations only if they can be achieved without major expense or difficulty, IMRA remains concerned that this intent has been incompletely or imperfectly realized.
From the point
of view of the nation's mass
retrofitting of existing buildings can be a very complex and costly proposition, and IMRA believes that ADA attempts, although imperfectly, to recognize that. As IMRA understands it, one of ADA's primary aims is promoting the elimination of architectural
barriers that deny disabled persons access
to a wide range of
public accommodations, including stores of various types.
One statement in the Senate report, for which we see no clear
support in the bill's somewhat general wording, has caused considerable concern in retailing. It does not deal with the wellrecognized term 'architectural barriers, but instead introduces the new and troubling term 'physical barriers.' It states:
What the readily achievable" standards will mean ia
which is envisioned includes the addition of grab bars, the simple ramping of a few steps, the lowering of telephones, the addition of raised letter and braille markings on elevator control buttons, the addition of flashing alarm lights, and similar modest adjustments.
Yet perhaps without realizing the magnitude of what is being suggested, the report then introduces the previously unseen term 'physical barrier and gives an example that is far from a 'modest adjustment."
This section may require the removal of physical
Retailers know that layout costs are substantial. One division of my company, for instance, normally calculates the cost of physically moving merchandise from one location within a store to another, even adjacent location at $2.50 per square foot. I am reasonably confident that this standard estimate that we use would