Why, almost 30 years after the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed, are so many buildings not ADA-compliant? Hank Falstad began examining this question in 2009, after 17 years as an architect designing ADA-compliant buildings. His conclusion: Building owners just don’t want to spend the money. With this information in mind, Falstad started the program ACCESS Watchdogs in Wheelchairs, allowing people with disabilities report on buildings in the lodging industry that failed to meet ADA standards.
In 2012, Watchdogs in Wheelchairs evolved into Access Advocates. Through Access Advocates, people with disabilities can make complaints about specific buildings, and Access Advocates audits the building and takes legal action on behalf of the individual who reported the building. Access Advocates then recommends changes to retrofit the building for ADA compliance.
The work of Access Advocates is improving accessibility across the country, one building at a time. That means pushing businesses to live up to spirit of the Americans with Disabilities Act, ensuring that people with disabilities can access the same services as everyone else.
Falstad first sought out mentoring from SCORE in 2011. SCORE mentors helped Falstad develop the basic structure for his business, preparing him to rebrand as Access Advocates. In 2014, when the business stalled due to a dearth of talented ADA litigators, Falstad once again sought help from SCORE. His mentor Bob Cushman helped Falstad with marketing and partnering with law firms and lawyers. Falstad advises other small business owners to “use each obstacle as a growth opportunity.”
In 2018, Access Advocates worked on over 150 cases, many of which came out of inquiries through their website and social media. Falstad’s goal is to work up to 1,000 cases per year.