With the growing number of restaurants in Nashville, advocacy group Empower Tennessee wants to figure out how many are accessible to people with disabilities. The goal is to not only help those people figure out which restaurants they can go to, but to also help businesses avoid lawsuits.
Several Nashville restaurants — including Marche Artisan and Bagel Face Bakery — recently got sued over claims that they're not complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to the Nashville Post.
But Empower Tennessee doesn't want to be the ADA police, says executive director Brandon Brown. Volunteers for the group will visit restaurants with a checklist and point out where they're out of compliance, before they get in trouble.
"We don't want to be seen as, 'We're out to get you,' " he says. "It's a lot cheaper to do work on the front end, when things are recognized, than to go through a lawsuit process."
The group will rate restaurants on certain standards, including whether the doorway is wide enough for a wheelchair and whether they offer menus in Braille.
The last time Empower Tennessee tracked this, almost three years ago, 48 percent of restaurants received a "limited" rating, which means they didn't fulfill all of the criteria deemed necessary for people with disabilities.
But Brown says restaurants have an incentive to rate highly.
“Accessibility is good business," he says. "We believe that when you have the freest access possible, you're providing opportunities for more money to come into that business."
Empower Tennessee plans to survey several dozen restaurants this year and eventually assess other kinds of businesses as well, like music venues.
The group will also consult with businesses on how to improve their accessibility.