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Hollister Ordered to Make Faux Surf Shacks Wheelchair Accessible

August 16, 2013
Source: The Colorado Independent, CO

“Dudes” and “Bettys” [who use] wheelchairs have won a legal battle against Abercrombie & Fitch Co. to gain smoother access into its chain of surf-shack style Hollister stores.

Photo: A Hollister "surf shack" porch with stairs.

Denver-based U.S. District Judge Wiley Daniel on Friday said he’ll grant an injunction ordering the clothing chain to redesign 231 stores – about half of all its retail locations – within the next three years to make them accessible to people with disabilities.

“It’s too bad it took so much haggling and a court order to make Abercrombie wake up to the fact that we now live in a society where it’s completely unacceptable to make something inaccessible,” said Julie Farrar, a Denver policy analyst who was a named plaintiff in the suit.

The company didn’t return calls seeking comment.

Friday’s order comes after a four-year legal battle in which the teen-clothing chain argued its stepped porches, designed to evoke a weathered surf-shack, aren’t just entrances to its stores but also a form of marketing essential to establishing its beach-lifestyle brand. Hollister promotes what its corporate brass describe as a “fantasy of Southern California.” Staffers in the chain’s faux-beach cottages are instructed to use surfer lingo. Girls find their hella hot pants in the “Bettys” department, and boys find their chocka chinos in the “Dudes” department.

“It’s all about hot lifeguards and beautiful beaches… Young and fun, with a sense of humor, Hollister never takes itself too seriously,” reads the company’s 2013 report to shareholders.

Plaintiffs argued the company didn’t take the 23-year-old Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) seriously either. The act prohibits discrimination in employment, transportation, communication, governmental activities and public accommodations.

The [lawsuit] Colorado Cross Disability Coalition vs. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. started when Farrar’s wheelchair wouldn’t make it up the steps of the Hollister store at the Orchard Town Center in Westminister, Colo., where her daughter wanted to shop.

That store, like others, had a wheelchair-accessible side entrance disguised as a shuttered window. Farrar, who has used a wheelchair since age 12, doesn’t do side entrances.

“I’m philosophically opposed to that,” she told the Independent.

Photo: A fully accessible Hollister "surf shack" entrance.

The company argued for a four-and-a-half-year time frame to convert the inaccessible entrances, but Judge Daniel ordered a faster solution.

“We’re very pleased with today’s results. Now disabled dudes and bettys will be able to roll through Hollister’s front door along with non-disabled dudes and bettys,” said Amy Robertson, an attorney with the Denver-based Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, which represents the plaintiff class in the case.

“This is important not only to these customers but to the central principle of integration embodied in the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

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