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Preparing Your Businesses for ADA Compliance
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Preparing Your Businesses for ADA Compliance

People who use mobility devices know all too well what it’s like to park the car, unload the wheelchair, enter the front door of a business, navigate aisles, use the restroom, and pay for goods and services. If a business doesn’t keep these needs in mind, navigation can get complicated.

Everyone is a potential customer at a business — whether a person is going to the movie theater, browsing around at the mall, or picking up a few groceries at the corner market. This includes the more than 50-million Americans with disabilities who are more inclined to keep coming back to a business if it has a good universal design.

Businesses that provide a welcoming and accommodating environment for everyone who walks—or rolls—in the doors means they are complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in all places that are open to the public and allows for full engagement in everyday activities. The ADA requires businesses to reasonably accommodate customers with disabilities.

Customer Accessibility

There are 12 categories of public accommodations regardless of building size or age of the facility, according to the ADA, including stores, bars, restaurants, theaters, hotels, recreation facilities, service establishments, private museums, schools, malls, and doctor/dentist offices. Each of these categories has different regulations relating to accessibility.

To assist small business owners, the ADA put together a publication to help companies understand the regulations and design standards for compliance on accessible buildings.

“Businesses covered by the ADA are required to modify their business policies and procedures when necessary to serve customers with disabilities and take steps to communicate effectively with customers with disabilities,” the ADA document states. “The ADA also requires businesses to remove architectural barriers in existing buildings and make sure that newly built or altered facilities are constructed to be accessible to individuals with disabilities.”

Architectural Barriers

Businesses should take into reasonable consideration the following to ensure a safe space for customers:

  • Parking spaces with access aisles that allow enough space for a wheelchair lift to be used. In fact, more spaces reserved for those with disabilities are needed in general. An analysis of 300 public parking lots in Toronto revealed that less than 5 percent of parking spaces are designated for people with disabilities.
  • In addition to steps leading into the building’s entrance, provide a ramp.
  • The door also needs to be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
  • Aisles within the store should be navigable by wheelchair or other mobility devices.
  • Counters, tables, and checkout stands that are low enough for someone in a wheelchair.
  • A restroom large enough to hold at least one wheelchair and two people.

Regardless of the precautions taken, businesses should make sure they have the correct business insurance in order to protect themselves against any liability claims that could come about. It’s worth noting that business insurance doesn’t typically cover costs associated with liability claims if the business causes intentional damage.

At a basic level, can anyone who visits the business access it, or are there barriers limiting certain groups of people? Employees may be asked to maneuver a wheelchair through an aisle, reach something off of a shelf, or read labels on a product to ensure that your goods and services are accessible to all visitors  

Winter’s Coming

Before we know it, Mother Nature will bring in the annual snow and ice. There are common considerations for all customers including keeping:

  • Sidewalks and ramps swept from snow.
  • Railings and parking spaces free of ice.
  • Floors dry and clear of debris or seasonal displays.

Coping in the winter for people with disabilities can be an especially challenging time, so we’ve compiled a few tips to be prepared for winter, including calling ahead to a place of business to see if you can easily access the building.

Just as important as having accessible storefronts in the winter (and year round), it’s equally vital for businesses to have accessible websites during the winter months when online sales tend to surge. Any business that is considered a public accommodation should have a website that’s ADA compliant.

Businesses can avoid a website-accessibility lawsuit by making make their sites are usable for people with visual impairments, for example. Some businesses choose to do this to ensure they are serving the widest audience possible, while others do it to prevent a possible lawsuit. Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 include standards designed to help people with a wide range of disabilities.

Businesses that provide quality customer service and ADA compliance are in a better position to offer their goods and services to a lot more people and see better profit margins as a result. Reasonable efforts must be made to accommodate the 18% of the population who may need extra assistance. For information on filing accessibility complaints, visit the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer Complaint Center.

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