The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination against people with disabilities. The protection applies to any place open to the general public, including jobs, schools, transportation, and your business establishment.
The ADA guarantees disabled individuals equal access to public accommodations and services. It’s important to make sure your business is accessible to people with disabilities. If your building doesn’t meet ADA requirements, you could be fined and even sued.
There is no official ADA inspector, so you’re on your own to ensure you meet all requirements. It’s not difficult to comply, but doing so begins with understanding the ADA.
- Understand the Americans with Disabilities Act
Understanding the ADA regulations you’re bound by is the best way to avoid fines for non-compliance. Legislation has a reputation for being lengthy and confusing, so it’s understandable if you haven’t taken the time to learn the regulations inside and out. Thankfully, the ADA isn’t hard to understand.
The ADA is divided into five sections – Titles I-V. It’s important to understand all titles, but Title III specifically addresses public accommodations and commercial facilities. Here’s a summary of each title with links to learn more details.
To meet accessibility requirements, you must not have barriers in place that would make it difficult or impossible for someone with a disability to do business with you. For instance, accessible counters must be clear at all times and free of display items.
Barriers can also include policies and procedures. For example, the ADA requires all businesses, including restaurants, to allow service animals to accompany their person into areas where members of the public are allowed to be. It would be illegal for a restaurant to adopt a policy that did not allow service animals inside.
Understanding the ADA makes it easier to comply, and compliance will prevent fines and lawsuits.
- Make accessibility improvements to your building
Anytime you’re made aware of an accessibility violation, don’t wait to fix it. Waiting comes with the potential for lawsuits and fines. For example, there are strict regulations for doors and entrances. Your front doors might require intense effort to open. The ADA requires that doors take no more than five pounds of force to open. Also, door handles should be no more than four feet above the finished door. If your doors don’t meet these requirements, you’ll have to get new doors, adjust your door closer, or install an additional handle.
When you’re adding elements to your building, like awnings, a patio, or a vestibule, make sure the addition meets ADA requirements. Vestibules are a popular addition to buildings, and thankfully, they’re easy to customize. Make sure the doors are easy to open, and wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. You can build a vestibule to cover your entire front patio if you desire, as long as the patio has a clear path to the main entrance of your business.
- Consider accessibility anytime you make improvements
Anytime you add onto your building, consider accessibility first. If you’re remodeling the bathroom, keep sink and toilet height in mind. If your toilet is low, install grab bars on the wall to help people pull themselves up. According to the CDC, 33,000 Americans were injured while using the toilet in 2008.
- Respond to all concerns expressed by patrons
When a patron tells you there’s a problem with accessibility, if you can fix it quickly, do it. For example, if a disabled person tells you they had a hard time because there are no grab bars in the bathroom, install grab bars immediately. Even if grab bars aren’t required by law, it’s the right thing to do.
You can’t prevent everyone from filing a lawsuit, but ignoring the problem and the patron will make it worse. You probably want to avoid admitting fault, but don’t ignore your patron. Be helpful and compassionate, especially if they’ve been injured. Ask them what you can do to help, and assure them you’re taking steps to prevent future patrons from experiencing the same difficulty.
Get clear with your landlord on ADA responsibility
If you’re made aware of an issue, don’t panic. You didn’t make your building inaccessible on purpose. You’re probably just the tenant and have no control over how the building was made.
Still, you’re partially responsible for ADA compliance under the law. Your landlord is also responsible. If you don’t have a clearly defined protocol for handling compliance resolution, talk it through with your landlord. While you’re both responsible for compliance, your landlord should shoulder the financial responsibility.