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NY AG reaches disabilities deal with big chain stores

Bronx Times

BY DAVID CRUZ

Coming soon to the borough’s JC Penney and Petland Discount stores - wheelchair friendly access.

The retail giants have agreed to retrofit their businesses to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, in the books since 1990.

There are about eleven Petland stores throughout the borough and just one JC Penney department store in Bay Plaza Mall, though it’s unclear how many of these stores actually violated ADA guidelines.

The changes, set to take effect by 2013, are part of an agreement with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

An investigation by his office found the majority of those businesses throughout the state did not meet state and federal disability laws.

JC Penney said in a statement that it fully cooperated with the AG’s office to make its stores fully compliant with ADA standards.

“While the inspection of our stores took place in August 2011, we transformed our sales floor on February 1 by removing numerous fixtures, in-aisle displays and nearly 70 percent of our in-store signage,” said JC Penney spokewoman Kate Coultas. “Customers visiting our stores today will find a less cluttered shopping environment that not only allows them to better navigate our stores, but also makes our merchandise much easier to find.”

From Riverdale to Concourse Plaza, Petland stores will now have to resize their doors to fit wheelchairs.

The agreement also calls for an independent ADA consultant to assure the stores follow through with the changes. Employees will be re-trained to ensure disabled customers have access to products.

Wheelchair accessible bathrooms and newly written equal opportunity policies will also be included.

Schneiderman said the move gives the “promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act a reality.”

A representative for Petland was unavailable for comment.

But Paul Tobin, who heads the United Spinal Association said the changes put “retailers on notice that violations of the ADA will not be tolerated in New York.”

Brett Eisenberg with the Bronx Independent Living Services group said his office is commited to ensuring those businesses are 100% ADA compliant.

Paula Wolf, president of Disabled in Action, looked beyond the reprisal, seeing the change as an opportunity to lure “potential customers”.

It’s unclear how much the changes will cost, though the companies have agreed to pay the state $120,000 to resolve the investigations.

Reach reporter David Cruz at 718-742-3383 or email dcruz@cnglocal.com.

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