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From Ramps to Readability: Making Your Business ADA-Friendly

May 22, 2017

Do you run a business or have plans to open up a new location soon? Perhaps, future renovations in the works? Then you should be aware of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The act was established in 1991 and updated in 2010 and outlines in great detail what steps businesses need to take to provide accessibility for people with disabilities.

Since more than 50 million Americans experience some form of disability, it’s important for businesses to take the necessary steps to ensure accessibility.

Keep reading to get the rundown on what business accessibility entails under the ADA.

Policies and procedures

The first thing is to examine existing policies and procedures. Please realize that adjustments don’t need to be overhauls—simply “reasonable modifications.” For example, if you operate a clothing store with dressing rooms and your policy is “only one person per dressing room,” you may need to change it to two. Subsequently, this allows someone who utilizes a wheelchair to receive the assistance he or she may require from a friend or family member.

A “no animals allowed” policy is another example. For instance, say someone who is deaf or blind may need a service dog to help him or her better navigate the environment. It’s important to note, however, under the ADA, “emotional support” or “therapy animals” are not considered service animals. The policy can be quickly revised to state “no pets allowed except service animals.”

During a situation in which communication is essential—let’s say, serving a blind or low-vision person—your business may need to provide items in braille or an audible list of menu items or sales. For those who are hard of hearing or deaf, you may consider changing your policy to exchange written notes for quick, informal exchanges. Having someone who knows sign language on staff may also be helpful for more complicated scenarios, such as describing technical drawings or surgical procedures.

Adjusting facilities

Architectural barriers can complicate situations for people with disabilities and small businesses in already-existing, pre-ADA buildings. The ADA contains updated standards, established in 2010, for determining if facilities are considered accessible under the law. The standards are different for altering existing buildings, removing barriers from long-standing buildings, and for constructing new facilities.

There are several guidelines under each category that can be reviewed in full here, but let’s go over a few of them.

Barrier Removal
The ADA requires the removal of existing barriers when it’s “readily achievable.” This means “easily accomplishable without much difficulty or expense” based on the size and available capital of the business. As you may guess, larger businesses will be expected to make more accommodations than smaller ones.

A small-town restaurant on Main Street with large, concrete steps might not be required to remove them and install a wheelchair-accessible ramp, due to the expense related to the business’s resources. However, the restaurant is still responsible for altering policies and services in order to accommodate individuals with disabilities. This may mean sending an employee to assist the person or allowing the person to use a backdoor instead of the main entrance.

The recommended way to prioritize barrier removal is outlined as follows:

  • Provide access to your business from public sidewalks, parking areas, and public transportation
  • Provide access to the goods and services your business offers
  • Provide access to public restrooms
  • Remove barriers to other amenities offered to the public, such as drinking fountains

Under the ADA, one out of every six parking spaces is required to be accessible. If the parking lot is particularly small, only one space is required.

This chart makes understanding parking standards a breeze:

New Construction/Alteration
New facilities must be built to be usable by people with disabilities. The 2010 ADA standards specifically lay out design requirements for new construction and renovation projects. When undertaking a renovation project (remodeling, rehabilitating, reconstructing, changing or rearranging structural elements, wall configurations, or any other changes that could affect the usability of the premises), the business must make maximum efforts to make the renovation disability-accessible, within feasibility.

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