More than 50 million Americans are disabled—that’s 18 out of 100 of us. If you’re not already one of the 18%, you may become one as you get older. While it’s obvious that discriminating against disabled people is wrong, many businesses aren’t aware of the alterations they’ll have to make to become accessible to everyone.
For generations, Americans with disabilities simply had to hope activities and public places would be accessible to them. Often they weren’t, leaving people unable to participate in public life. That started to change with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Today, the ADA spells out requirements that businesses can use to be sure they aren’t discriminating.
The ADA’s Rules About Buildings
When most people think of the ADA, the accessibility of buildings often comes to mind first. Indeed, this is the part of the ADA that is most specific. There are many requirements, such as loading lanes alongside accessible parking spots, accessible restrooms, and entrance ramps. If you hope to build a new building to house your business, you will have to make sure you meet all these standards.
However, if your building already exists, you may not need to alter anything. Since the ADA’s building standards have existed since 1991, newer buildings should meet those guidelines already. While updates were passed in 2010, you’re considered still in compliance so long as your building complied with the 1991 standard and hasn’t been altered since. If, however, you make any upgrades, you need to look up the current standards and make sure your renovations comply with them.
Any time a barrier to access exists and you can readily remove it, you must do so. This seems obvious, but many business owners simply don’t think about or notice the barriers that may be in the way. For instance, if your business has two doors and only one can be accessed in a wheelchair, make sure that door is open when your business is open and it isn’t blocked. Clear aisles for mobility devices to pass through and place credit card readers where a customer in a wheelchair can reach. These changes often don’t cost a cent, while opening up your business to more customers.
Your Duty to Customers
If your business is open to the public, it’s covered by the ADA’s rules on accessibility for customers. This includes small businesses. Whether you own a restaurant, barber shop, clothing store, daycare, or gym, so long as you serve the public directly at your location, the ADA applies. However, if your business is an office or warehouse that is not open to customers, this part of the ADA does not apply to you. You will still have to follow standards about nondiscrimination toward your employees.
Under the ADA, you must make reasonable provisions for disabled customers. What counts as reasonable? It often includes very simple assistance from employees. For instance, you should fetch items from shelves on request or read labels aloud when asked to do so. Disabled people are entitled to keep an aide with them everywhere, even if your usual policy wouldn’t allow it. And you must allow service animals. Service animals are those trained to provide a service for disabled people. This does not include emotional support animals or pets.
Communicating with customers can sometimes be a challenge. For brief exchanges, it’s fine to make a notepad available so a deaf or nonspeaking customer can communicate with you. But for longer exchanges, it may make more sense to hire an interpreter.
Your Duty Toward Employees
If you have at least 15 employees, the ADA’s rules about employees apply to your business. Briefly, you may not discriminate against prospective employees because of their disability, and you must provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees and job seekers.
What does that mean? It’s broad by design, because disabilities vary. In many cases, following the ADA is as simple as asking an employee what they need from you.
During the interview process, you may not ask a prospective employee if they are disabled. It is, however, acceptable to have expectations about applicants’ abilities. For instance, you can say that a job will require someone to lift 50 pounds. But you can’t add requirements that don’t have any bearing on the job. If an applicant requests an accommodation for their interview, you should accommodate it if you are reasonably able to do so. This means you don’t have to, for instance, restructure your entire building. But if they ask you to meet them in the parking lot and guide them to your office, that is not excessively burdensome and you should do it.
After you hire someone, similar standards apply. Employees may request accommodations, and you must provide these or an equivalent if it’s not an undue burden. You may not fire them for being disabled. If you know of an employee’s disability, you may not disclose it except to ensure they are accommodated. No one at work should be permitted to harass someone about their disability. And, if an employee makes an ADA complaint, you may not retaliate against them for doing so. Instead, wait for the legal outcome of the complaint.
Your ADA-Compliant Business
Because of the broadness of the ADA and its vagueness on some details, it may be difficult to be sure you’re doing enough. In addition, you may have state and local laws on accessibility you also have to follow. Always do the necessary research, and speak to an accessibility consultant if you aren’t sure.Another expert who can help your business succeed is your financial advisor. They can help you make a business plan, find the right help, and put your company on a firm financial footing. To meet the right business financial advisor for you, contact us today.