Friendly’s agrees to make restaurants more accessible to disabled
BOSTON (AP) _ Friendly’s family restaurant chain agreed to a settlement with the Justice Department Monday that will make it easier for disabled people to eat at its 704 restaurants over the next six years.
The agreement affects more restaurants than any other negotiated by the department under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Attorney General Janet Reno said 49 million Americans with disabilities will benefit from the Friendly’s settlement.
``For diners with disabilities, ADA compliance is the real welcome sign on the door of every restaurant,″ Reno said at a news conference here, where the agreement was filed in U.S. District Court.
About 13 percent of Friendly’s restaurants aren’t accessible at all to people in wheelchairs, said Donald K. Stern, U.S. attorney in Boston.
``If you have some kind of disability, you should be able to get in the door,″ Stern said.
The Friendly Ice Cream Corp. agreed to a six-year program of improvements. In the first year, Friendly’s will alter the entrances to 93 restaurants to eliminate steps and doorways and vestibules that are too narrow for wheelchairs.
Other reforms included redesigning dining areas for wheelchair users, lowering the heights of counters and pay phones, reading menus to blind people and helping less mobile customers reach self-service goods.
The company also agreed to pay $50,000 to the U.S. Treasury, the maximum penalty permitted under the 1990 ADA.
The cost of the alterations was unclear, Stern said.
Friendly’s spokeswoman Vivian Brooks said the company, based in Wilbraham, Mass., saw an opportunity to enhance accessibility at its restaurants.
``We see this as something that should be done. We want to do the right thing,″ she said.
The Justice Department began investigating Friendly’s in 1995 after the Massachusetts Office of Disabilities received several complaints.
When the government investigation revealed that most Friendly’s restaurants failed to comply with the law, the company negotiated and cooperated with the government in reaching a settlement, Stern said.
Friendly’s officials themselves helped the government determine how many of its locations were in violation, Stern said.
Bruce Bruneau has been frustrated at several Friendly’s locations. As a project coordinator for the Massachusetts Office of Disabilities, he has struggled to get his wheelchair into the doorways and bathrooms of Friendly’s in Norwell, Arlington and other towns.
In one restaurant, he said, he was forced to sit in the aisle because his wheelchair wouldn’t fit in the booths.