These tips can help establish a compliance plan specific to your company.
One out of every five adults in the U.S. lives with a disability, according to a July 2015 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, sets forth regulations designed to address needs for this population.
These regulations apply to small businesses, and your company could run into trouble, including possible fines, if it’s not ADA compliant. So what does ADA compliance mean? Here’s what you should know.
Understanding ADA Compliance
The ADA prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, governmental activities, transportation, communications, public accommodations, and commercial facilities. For small businesses, issues of compliance typically deal with Title I and Title III of the law. Title I covers employment regulations for employers with 15 or more employees, and Title III applies to businesses and nonprofit service providers that are public accommodations or that provide goods and services directly to the public.
In general, ADA compliance means that your business makes “reasonable accommodations” to assist people with disabilities. Compliance with these segments of the law might involve:
- Having written policies on job accommodations, performance expectations, and disability-related leave or absences
- Making minor adjustments to standard operating procedures
- Allowing service animals and mobility devices
- Adjusting the mode of communication with customers
- Removing physical barriers to existing structures when readily achievable (without much difficulty or expense)
Compliance Is Business-Specific
“There is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution for ADA compliance,” says Evan Berquist, an associate attorney with experience advising small businesses about ADA compliance risks. “What is readily achievable for one company may be more or less than what’s required of another. Each business will have a different employee profile, business model, and levels of achievable resources.”
Berquist advises business owners to think about how their business interacts with people who have disabilities. “Having a handicap-accessible ramp may be an important part of compliance for the grocery store down the street, but if your business conducts most of its sales online, then you should be thinking about whether your site is accessible to people with vision or hearing impairments,” he says.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s Primer for Small Business can help guide compliance, and there are also resources across the country that can assist. Rachael Stafford, business development director for Meeting the Challenge and project director of the Rocky Mountain ADA Center, recommends checking the national network of ADA Centers or looking for nearby accessibility consulting organizations like Meeting the Challenge. These groups provide accessibility audits, technical assistance, design review, policy and procedure advice, and training options.
Business owners should also consider undergoing an ADA compliance audit to ensure that they are adhering to the law, says Karen Harned, executive director of the NFIB Small Business Legal Center. “By hiring an ADA compliance expert to come in and inspect their business, the small business owner, among other things, receives: a general peace of mind, a minimized risk of an ADA lawsuit, eligibility for reduced penalties if sued, and protection against slip-and-fall lawsuits.”
Beyond compliance just generally being the right thing to do and also a legal requirement, it’s also good business, Harned says. “Twenty-two percent of the population has a disability, and they are more likely to frequent your business if it’s accessible. The cost of alterations may entitle a business to a tax credit, as well as the usual business-related expense deduction.”
An Overlooked Compliance Area
Many think of handicap parking spaces and wheelchair ramps when it comes to ADA requirements, but overlooked areas of compliance can result in legal trouble or fines as well.
One example: website accessibility. Since the beginning of 2015, more than 240 businesses nationwide have been sued in federal court over compliance issues.
“The ADA is looking to adopt international web accessibility standards by 2018, but already it is pretty much a given that if your physical store or business caters to people with disabilities, then the online presence must as well to prevent discrimination,” says Sharon Rosenblatt of Accessibility Partners, a company that helps organizations with disability legislation compliance.
An ADA compliant website could include captioned videos and images as well as information (such as webinar presentations, important forms, or web text) available as PDFs that can be accessed by a person with low vision or who is using an assistive technology device.
According to Harned, here are a few other overlooked areas:
- Lack of access into the building, such as: a slope that’s too steep, lack of a ramp and/or grab bar, lack of clearance space for wheel chairs, lack of signs to accessible doors
- Doors as barriers, such as: five pounds of pressure or too much of a lip
- Lack of space to navigate wheel chairs
- Lack of access within the building
- Surfaces or appliances that are too high
- Bathrooms: lack of adequate signage; stalls with not enough space for a wheelchair; grab bars that are non-existent or out of compliance; mirrors that are too high; a sink, toilet or dryer that is too high