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State checks lottery sellers for compliance with laws for the disabled

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Posted: Wednesday, October 16, 2002 10:00 pm

Ali Ahmad's Turner Road mini mart is miles from the nearest forest, still he was visited by a group from the California Conservation Corps on Wednesday.

The group's mission: To inspect local businesses for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Known for their environmentally conscious exploits, the group was armed with tape measures and cameras to collect data for the California State Lottery.

The lottery enlisted the aid of the CCC to do a sweeping audit of local businesses to check for compliance with the ADA.

But Ahmad's Shortstop isn't alone.

Every store that sells lottery tickets must submit a form that confirms that its premises are in compliance with the ADA.

Two CCC teams will be visiting 36 local grocery stores, gas stations and liquor stores this week, collecting data on their compliance with disability laws.

The audits come after the state lottery was sued by disability advocacy groups for allowing businesses with ADA violations to sell lottery tickets.

The class action lawsuit claims the lottery discriminates against people with disabilities and violates the ADA by failing to assure that all stores selling tickets are accessible.

The lottery was forced to conduct random audits in stores across the state to ensure lottery accessibility for the disabled.

"This is just part of our overall effort to fulfill the mandates of a court order to randomly audit all retail location that we utilize throughout the state," said Norma Minas, spokeswoman for the California State Lottery.

The inspections, which can take from 20 minutes to an hour, look at various aspects of a store's layout, from the width of the product aisles to the size of bathroom doors, said Michael Rue, a California Conservation Corps conservationist.

Another method is called the "fist test." Using only his clenched palm, Rue opened the shop's front door to simulate some of the difficulties a disabled person might encounter.

"I never would have thought about what a handicapped person has to go through just to enter a store," he said.

Businesses were notified of the impending inspections through the mail about a month in advance, Rue said.

"We just want to be law-abiding business owners," Ahmad said before adding that his store was in compliance with the ADA.

The audits began in San Diego and have moved north from county to county over the past three years, checking for compliance with ADA regulations.

In all, the CCC will survey 560 stores in San Joaquin County and has already visited stores in Stockton, Modesto and Tracy.

One of the major groups that filed the lawsuit against the state lottery in 1997 was Protection & Advocacy, Inc.

"The state should not conduct its programs and activities in places that are not accessible to people with disabilities," Margaret Jakobson, senior attorney with the group, was quoted on the PAI Web site as saying. "Lottery retailers profit from the sale of lottery tickets, and thus receive a public benefit."

Calls to PAI were not returned Wednesday.

This is not the first time local businesses have had to accommodate disability issues.

Last month, a local winery reached a settlement with a well-known filer of lawsuits for allegedly failing to comply with federal and state laws for the disabled.

The Michael David Winery tasting room on Highway 12 will undergo upgrades to comply with the ADA standards after being sued by George S. Louie, an advocate for the disabled.

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