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A Small Business Owner’s Guide to the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA has confused a lot of people since it was installed in 1990, concerned about what they need to do to meet its requirements.

This is important because it’s estimated that 13.7% Americans have mobility disabilities. Those with hearing or vision disabilities, or both, is about 10.5%. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of access for these ones.

What can you do about the Americans with Disabilities Act as a business owner? Keep reading to find out!

Americans With Disabilities Act: What Is It?

It’s estimated that about 26% of Americans, one-quarter, get aid from the Act. Chances are good that the Act impacts one of your family members or close friends. Rather than force businesses and building owners to comply at any cost there’s a bit of reasonability built into the Act.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, ADA, requires businesses since 1991 to make reasonable accommodations for all persons with disabilities without discrimination.

Titles I and III cover most businesses. Businesses that have 15 or more employees fall under Title I. Title III covers businesses that are providing a good or service whether they are a non-profit or not.

Those under Title III are called “public accommodations” by the ADA. There are 12 categories of these public accommodations, which cover almost every kind of business despite size, location, or age of the building.

New and existing buildings under the titles should be designed or modified to remove architectural barriers for individuals with disabilities.

What Is “Readily Achievable” Under the ADA?

Since everyone has a different idea of what is “reasonable” and readily achievable to attain those ADA requirements, some examples are given by the ADA. One such example covers policies and procedures, rather than architectural requirements alone.

In the case of a changing room, a clothing store may have a policy of having only one person in the changing rooms at a time. If someone is unable to dress due to a disability, they will need the assistance of a companion. This is a reasonable request since it doesn’t require a “fundamental alteration.” That is, a change in the essential nature of your business.

You don’t need to provide a companion (and extend your business into a situation that could hold the business or those in it to legal ramifications) for the disabled customer if it isn’t a service given to other customers.

Similarly, it is not out of a reasonable degree of service to disabled customers to reach items they cannot or to describe items they cannot see.

Service Animals Are Not Pets

A “no pets” policy could result in staff unwittingly barring ones with disabilities from access to stores, restaurants, hotels, or other places if they are improperly trained.

Having clear policies in place and effective training will ensure that they’re aware of obligations regarding service animals. Service animals are trained to perform any number of tasks, from detecting blood sugar levels in diabetics or assisting in hearing or vision tasks.

This can be confusing in some cases where the ADA does not cover a companion animal such as an “emotional support,” “therapy,” or “comfort” animal. They don’t fit the definition in the ADA.

Only two situations are permissible for exclusion — if the animal is not in proper control of the handler and if the animal is not housebroken. The handler must be able to maintain control through signal, voice, or other effective means of control.

Similarly, there are only two questions you may ask to determine if a dog is a service animal covered by the ADA. “Is the animal required because of a disability?” “What work or task has the animal been trained to perform?”

You may not ask for a performance of an animal’s duty, or for proof of certification or medical documentation. Neither may you ask about the nature of the person’s disability or any other question about the animal.

Are Architectural Barriers a Readily Achievable Limitation?

Every business has the responsibility to determine what is “readily achievable” according to the ADA. Parking spaces without an access aisle for wheelchair lift deployment, counters that are too high, steps within the premises, or no ADA compliant bathroom.

Providing a safe and accessible space is what is required, “without excessive expense.”

The ADA tries to meet halfway between the needs of disabled persons and business owners on a budget. It’s a flexible requirement to improve access at the very least. The 2010 standards have stated that light switches and thermostats that are already installed at 54 inches due to the 1991 ADA requirement have no need to be moved again.

Some simple requirements, such as a 2-inch exterior step being graded, are neither expensive nor difficult in most cases. But, it will make things much easier for persons with a variety of disabilities.

One requirement that may not be feasible to attain could be moving a load-bearing wall, attempting to make a bathroom compliant with ADA standards. In that case, you may only be able to do the best job you can without changing the fundamental structure of the existing building.

Guided by the Americans With Disabilities Act

The Americans with Disabilities Act is a long, technical read. But don’t worry, start with making a checklist and do the best that you can. Start with the easiest items and move your way up the list.

Everyone has a right to enjoy the goods and services of your business. Making sure customers can exercise those rights not only benefits them but also yourself as a business owner. Why not be proactive with your business and get a chance to impress 1/4 of the country at the same time?

Want to know more about what you can do to benefit your business? Check out our other articles for more business news and tips! Keep browsing today!

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