RAQs: Recently Asked Questions

Topic: Fragrance and ADA - 8/27/2019
What does ADA say about providing fragrance free bathrooms in public libraries? Our reasonable acc...
Posted: Tuesday, August 27, 2019 Permalink

MEMBER QUESTION

What does ADA say about providing fragrance free bathrooms in public libraries? Our reasonable accommodation to a patron with fragrance sensitivity issues was to take the fragrance dispenser out of the public unisex bathroom. Are we in compliance?

 

WNYLRC ATTORNEY'S RESPONSE

It makes sense that “Ask the Lawyer” gets a lot of Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) related questions.  After all, both the ADA and libraries work to reduce barriers—barriers to information, barriers to education, and barriers to services/employment.   

The issue of fragrance sensitivity and ADA compliance brings unique challenges. 

For people living with this disability, the stakes are high: itching, burning, sneezing, rash, nausea, headache, and breathing problems can all result from exposure to even small amounts of fragrance in the air.  And there is no reliable way to predict what precise product might carry the triggering chemical, scent, or compound.[1]

To drill down into the member’s question, if the sole concern the patron has raised has been about access to the bathroom, then it may be that this sole adjustment was sufficient.  However, I have found it is best to work through ADA accommodation issues from a broader perspective, by asking: within attainable, affordable and (thus) reasonable measures, are we doing all we can to reduce barriers to access?

In a bathroom, this could be limited to removing a scented air freshener, as the member has done.  However, it could be that in addition to the air freshener, particular cleaning products, ambient scent entering the bathroom via the air ducts, and other fragrances (some of them on people) are invading the space and triggering the negative impacts.  In that case, the key is to reduce all fragrances in the space (within the bounds of what is “reasonable”), perhaps by:

  • changing cleaning products
  • changing the HVAC system
  • having a scent-free policy

--all of which could be considered an accommodation under the ADA.

Not all of these accommodations, however, are automatically “reasonable.”  Switching cleaning supplies could require a negotiation under the standing contract with a professional cleaner—or could be as easy as selecting fragrance-free products.  A small library with an annual budget of $150,000.00 would find it too expensive to re-route the HVAC at a cost of $200,000.00—but perhaps could install a small window fan, drawing in fragrance-free air, for a much lower (and thus reasonable) cost.  And the “reasonableness” a fragrance-free policy will depend on several factors, based on who it impacts.

A “fragrance-free” policy can be imposed upon employees after due consideration of overall working conditions, any union agreement, and related policies.  However, a “fragrance free” policy for the visiting public poses broader difficulties.  As just one concern: while most libraries will find it reasonable to address extreme hygiene issues that impact everyone (like visitors who may bring the pungent odor of fecal matter[2]) through a “Patron Code of Conduct” to, a facility-wide “fragrance ban” could (ironically) impose limitations on library access.

This is where design—and well-crafted library-specific policy—can help out.  Depending on the library, a climate-controlled area with separate HVAC or windows can be set aside as a “fragrance-free” area.  A sign could say “This area is designated as fragrance-free.  Please observe this restriction in consideration of fragrance-sensitive patrons.”  For libraries considering updating their facilities, although not currently required by current (2010) “Standards for Accessible Design[3],” a room with adequate heating/ventilation/ac (“HVAC”) to achieve this separation is worth considering.

As someone who is addicted to Lush’s “Dirty” body spray (spearmint and tarragon, just the thing to spritz after a stressful day of lawyering[4]), I realize it is easy to write about creating a scent-free space, and hard to navigate the human aspects of policing one.  Further, as discussed, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The bottom line for compliance is: within the limits of what is financially, operationally, and physically feasible at your library, consideration of a fragrance-free environment should be made.  When the access under consideration is for a bathroom, access to the accommodating facility should be clearly designated, and a bar to fragrances should clearly apply to the space.

A great resource for starting this fragrance-free journey, including sample language for when considering a policy, is https://askjan.org/disabilities/Fragrance-Sensitivity.cfm?.  As always, before using cookie-cutter language, it is best for a library to check its charter, bylaws, other policies, lease, and any union agreement before crafting their own, unique policy to meet the needs of their community.

I hope this answer passes your “sniff” test.

 


[2] Most librarians will know this is not a hypothetical concern.

[4] Lest you suspect ATL has been compromised: Stephanie A. Adams is not a LUSH ambassador and is not expecting, and will not accept, any compensation or in-kind contribution for this incidental plug.  This stuff just smells fantastic.

 

Tags: ADA

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