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May will improve access for disabled at its stores

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MIAMI — The May Department Store Co.'s 430 stores will be renovated to make their aisles, fitting rooms and restrooms more accessible to disabled shoppers under a class-action settlement.

The agreement, announced Tuesday, is the first by a national department store chain on merchandise access under the Americans With Disabilities Act, said Matthew Dietz, a lawyer who sued the parent of Meier & Frank, Lord & Taylor, Hecht's, Robinsons-May, Filene's and others stores.

"This settlement sets a benchmark for the retail industry," Dietz said. "It is a hotly debated item, and most stores do not want to lose selling space."

May spokeswoman Sharon Bateman said the settlement was "consistent with our goal of meeting the shopping needs of our customers."

Wide aisles will surround clusters of six to 12 movable merchandise racks to allow shoppers to at least see items if they can't physically reach them. May already has a policy of offering staff to retrieve hard-to-reach products.

The company agreed to a timetable to get rid of long tablecloths that can tangle wheelchair wheels within a year, lower the height of showcase tables to 3 feet within 18 months and widen aisles to fitting rooms and restrooms within three years.

"This is a year-round commitment," Dietz said. "Stores will not be clogged at holiday time."

The settlement does not estimate the cost of the changes, but they will be made at the expense of the $14 billion-a-year retailer based in St. Louis. Bateman had no estimate, saying it would be speculation at this point.

Similar lawsuits are pending against the Macy's and Burdines chains, and Dietz said he is in settlement talks with the Claire's accessories company, which operates about 2,500 stores nationally.

U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno has scheduled a hearing to review the settlement Aug. 21.