ADA stands for the “Americans with Disabilities Act,” which became law in 1990. It is a significant piece of civil rights legislation, striving to ensure that people with disabilities are not discriminated against, but have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. The law is divided into five different sections, or titles, and it is Title III, or “Nondiscrimination on the basis of Disability by Public Accommodations and in Commercial Facilities” that is of most direct concern to people who run businesses.
What The Law Requires:
Title III of the ADA applies to private places of public accommodation, or any place where a business may have people drop in or receive potential customers. The federal act includes an non-exhaustive list of public accommodations, including hotels, restaurants, retail stores, banks, laundromats, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices, day care facilities, and schools.
The title includes minimum standards that all facilities must be built or altered to accommodate, as well as the removal of barriers that would make it impossible for people with disabilities to access your facilities. You are expected to “make reasonable accommodations,” to your usual way of doing business so as not to encumber providing service to a person with visual or hearing impairments, or any physical or mental disability. This part of the law is monitored and enforced by the Department of Justice.
Specifics for Your Business:
The top priority for ADA compliance involves the removal of “barriers,” which may be anything that makes a business less available to anyone because of a disability. Some of these barriers are structural, such as doorknobs that are difficult to operate, or doors that are too narrow. A barrier can also be a standard of behavior that unintentionally discriminates, or makes it impossible for someone to get the service they need. For example, requiring a driver's license to pay with a personal check could be discriminatory against someone with a vision impairment. You also should take into consideration providing options for people with vision or hearing impairments that would allow them to better communicate with your staff.
For the most part, every part of your business must be accessible for someone in a wheelchair, and this means providing a ramp or elevator, as well as being careful to ensure doorways are a proper width, and an adequate number of accessible parking spaces are provided.
Generally, every parking lot should have accessible spaces,1 if there are 25 or fewer spaces, 2 if there are between 25 and 50. These spaces should be close to the entrance, and be larger to accommodate an access aisle, as well as a sign marked with the international symbol for disability. If possible, all doors should be 36 inches wide, to allow a wheelchair access through it. If you choose to exclude pets from your business, you must make an exception for service animals.
Who Must Comply:
For the most part, any business that serves the public is expected to do whatever it can to make sure all people, including those with disabilities, can have access to its services. The law does not mean to place an impossible burden on businesses, and strives to enforce those goals which are “readily achievable,” or can be done without too much difficulty or expense. This means more will be expected from a large business than a small one, or for the construction of a new building than one built before 1992.
Compliance can be an ongoing process, so you can create a plan to become more acceptable as resources become available. You are expected to work towards removing barriers and increasing accessibility over time, but consideration will be made of what resources are available.
A report by ADA Compliance Professionals can help you navigate these guidelines and work out a way to make your facilities more accessible. They can help point out potential problem areas with your current facilities, and walk you through the steps needed to fix these problems.