Small Business Accessibility 101

Did you know that 50 million Americans have a disability of some sort? This is 18% of the population. Many of these disabled persons are your very customers – or potential customers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) took effect in March 2011 and sets standards for disabled accessibility.

The ADA requires “reasonable accommodations” by law in both the private and public sector.

Many small businesses don’t know the actual definition of an employer under the ADA. The ADA defines an employer as someone who:

  • Employs 15 or more full-time employees every business day
  • Employs the above for 20 or more weeks per year
  • Engages in a commerce industry

If your business doesn’t meet this criterion, you won’t need to follow Title I of the law. What Title I of the ADA does is:

  • Require employees to have equal opportunity
  • Prohibit discrimination

So, if you’re an “employer” based on the above definition, you’ll be able to ignore Title I. But then you need to move on to Title III, which covers “public accommodations.” Businesses that are considered to provide “public accommodations” will fall into many of the following:

  • Lodging
  • Bars
  • Restaurants
  • Grocery stores
  • Banks
  • Laundromats
  • Accountants
  • Public transportation
  • Lawyers
  • Schools
  • Social service centers
  • Recreation venues
  • Gyms

Private entities, such as clubs or religious organizations, are exempt from Title III. While the ADA is a federal law, there are some state laws that will need to be considered, depending on where the business is located.

In an ideal situation, you’ll want to consult with a disability lawyer in your state to make sure that your business adheres to both federal and state laws. Remaining compliant is essential to your business’ success and will save you from hefty fines and penalties.

Even if your business doesn’t have to comply with the ADA, you should take steps to accommodate your customers and clients. There’s a lot that you can do today to offer an easier time for customers with canes, wheelchairs and walkers.

Barriers

Barriers consist of anything that limits a person’s accessibility. This can mean many things, such as:

  • Incorporating adequate parking
  • Clearing sidewalks of snow
  • Adding ramps if stairs are present
  • Adding handrails on steps
  • Expanding narrow aisles
  • Adding fixed tables in eating areas
  • Providing doorknobs that are easy to grasp

Barrier removal is key to complying with the ADA. This is what will allow patrons to confidently and safely enter into your place of business. If barriers are in place, this doesn’t mean that you have to tear down and put up a new building.

You can make subtle changes over time that will allow all disabled patrons to enter the building.

Bathrooms and Doors

You may have noticed – wheelchairs are big. In fact, a lot of wheelchairs are so big that they can’t enter into a regular door. The ADA requires you to have a doorway that’s 32″ wide. If your door is wider, than that is also a good thing.

Wider doorways make it easier for wheelchairs and walkers to enter into a room.

And it makes sense for all doorways – not just your entrance.

Bathrooms should have hand rails, grab bars and a stall specifically designed for people with disabilities. The stall will need to be large enough for a wheelchair to be able to turn around and enter.

You will also need to make the sinks a height that a wheelchair can confidently get under and use. Drinking fountains can come next and are a nice touch for all disabled persons.

If you follow these simple tips, you’ll create a business environment that helps a disabled person not only enter your building, but work in your building and become a patron. Accessibility helps all levels of the disabled, from someone who uses a wheelchair to those who use a walker or cane.

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