Ryan Kelley, 28, is a Colorado Springs native who, upon moving north, never thought he’d return to live in his hometown. But following college at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and a couple years living and working in Denver, Kelley came back and now says he can’t imagine living anywhere else.
Kelley works as a senior project consultant at Meeting the Challenge, an accessibility compliance consulting firm that helps organizations and individuals navigate and abide by federal disability rights laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act. This week, Kelley spoke with the Business Journal about his hometown and the growth of his industry, largely thanks to the Department of Justice and increased enforcement.
Where are you from?
I’m a Colorado native. I’ve lived in Colorado Springs almost my whole life. I was here for 19 years and went to high school at Pine Creek and then to UCCS for a year. I decided UCCS wasn’t for me and wanted to venture out. I went to [Colorado State University] in Fort Collins and got a construction management degree.
I then moved back to the Springs for six months before I took a construction job in Denver. I worked there a couple years and came back here, where I’ve been for the past two years.
I grew up landscaping. It was backbreaking, and that’s why I wanted to go to college. I didn’t want to do that the rest of my life. While landscaping, it was often around new houses being built. I thought it looked fun and I wanted to be a part of it. But instead of the backbreaking work, I got my degree in construction management so I could run those jobs from start to finish.
How did you end up with Meeting the Challenge?
I did an internship here during college doing fieldwork. I collected measurements — restrooms, parking lots, hospitals — and we’d match them for compliance with the ADA. It was a three-month internship, but I really liked the values of this company. They take care of their employees.
Talk about Meeting the Challenge.
Meeting the Challenge has been in operation since 1990 when the ADA first became a law. [The law] really didn’t go into effect until 1992. After 1992 the Department of Justice expected public space to be in compliance.
With the consulting side, we work with public and private entities to create what the DOJ calls a transition plan and self-evaluation. The transition plan has to do with physical access to and inside the building — parking lots, curb ramps, sidewalks, doors, restrooms. We make sure they’re in compliance, so a person in a wheelchair can access the restroom. If it’s not accessible, we come up with a transition plan, which is a massive database that says what’s wrong with the building and what we recommend to comply, and then we give them a timeframe. Some of these buildings have more than 100 things wrong with them. No one expects them to reach compliance in the first month. It takes time to budget and renovate.
Low-hanging fruit, like lowering a coat hook, can be done within six months. Parking lots and concrete might be four years.
And what about your job?
My position is senior project consultant. … I travel all over the country and we collect data on location — parks, rec centers, community centers. We usually do two-week trips, then come back to the office, upload to our database and do everything that can’t be automatically computed. … We have to make sure the measurements are compliant or not and then we present our findings and recommendations to the client.
Larger entities we’ve reviewed sometimes have hundreds of facilities and sometimes up to 20,000 violations — maybe a city or a county. It can be overwhelming for our clients, but just starting a transition plan will usually get the DOJ to back off a little. It shows the business is trying to be in compliance.
Do you also enforce compliance?
We do not enforce. The only enforcement is through the Department of Justice. And often that’s why entities come to us — because they’re under a settlement agreement with the Department of Justice and part of that is to hire an ADA consultant. We help with the entire process. Being told they’re not in compliance stirs up panic [for businesses]. The ADA has been around for 26 years, but a lot of people still don’t know about it, including business owners and even architects.
We do plan reviews, so architects and engineers can send us their plans and we’ll let them know what to fix.
But vetting plans is not a requirement?
No, but I think it should be. Sometimes the design is correct but mistakes are made during construction.
We’ve saved architects hundreds of thousands of dollars before projects have even started.
What are common infractions?
Starting with the exterior: parking lots. They may be missing the required number of parking stalls or a van accessible space. Also, slopes in parking lots are often too steep.
Inside, restrooms are usually the No. 1 thing that’s not right. Door pressure and closing speed [issues] are also common. … Elevators are grandfathered if installed prior to 1992, but new ones are often not in compliance.
Did you need additional training?
They don’t really go over the ADA in construction management. You’d think it would be pretty important when you’re building a building, but it didn’t come up once.
All the training was done in- house. … And after you do 100 bathrooms, you pretty much have it down.
How has the company grown?
Last year our revenue grew 500 percent. Meeting the Challenge is a for-profit and the [nonprofit] ADA Center is a project of Meeting the Challenge under a grant from the Department of Health and Human Services.
The ADA Center is responsible for training and awareness, a lot of times with human resource professionals, and its services are free.
Are your clients usually large entities?
Big scope: We usually do two or three clients a year. One we’re working on right now has 600 facilities.
We also do small entities [companies], and we’ve seen a huge influx this last year — I think because of an increase in drive-by lawsuits. Mom-and-pops are being sued more over small things. Some are being proactive and some are just waiting for a complaint to come in. I’d say 75 percent have already been called out. The other 25 percent are seeing all these lawsuits and want to be proactive.
Within about the last seven years we’re seeing the DOJ take more and more businesses, cities and counties to court whereas before, they weren’t really enforcing [the ADA].
What’s the source for legal complaints?
Your average citizen. In the last few months, we’ve had 60 drive-by lawsuits from citizens in Colorado alone. Sometimes it’s one citizen leading all the lawsuits.
How much does it cost for businesses to comply?
For some renovations, especially for those that maintain more than 100 facilities, you’re talking millions of dollars. Individuals are usually in the thousands — probably under $20,000 for places with one restroom and small parking lots.
Many young professionals who leave Colorado Springs don’t come back. Why did you?
A lot of my friends didn’t come back, and when I moved away, I didn’t think I’d come back.
I got to experience Denver and Fort Collins at the perfect age. Now I’m ready to settle down, focus on my career, start a family — Colorado Springs is a family-oriented city. I grew up here my whole life and it’s familiar. I love it here and couldn’t picture myself moving away again.