woman hanging an open sign on door of business
The ADA was passed and recently updated to prevent discrimination against individuals with disabilities. — Getty Images/andresr

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was designed to require equal rights and access for individuals with disabilities. As a business owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that your business is ADA compliant.

Here’s what small businesses need to know about the ADA, and what accommodations the law requires.

What is the ADA?

Passed in 1990 and updated in 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities. This series of regulations includes five Titles that ensure equal rights and opportunities for people with disabilities:

  • Title I: Employment
  • Title II: State and Local Government
  • Title III: Public Accommodations
  • Title IV: Telecommunications
  • Title V: Miscellaneous Provisions

Under the law, disabilities are defined as physical or mental impairments that “substantially limit” or impact a person’s major life activities.

Here are some ways businesses can accommodate individuals with disabilities and comply with the ADA:

Architectural and physical barriers

The ADA requires businesses to make their entrance and interior accessible to all. Examples include offering handicapped parking, removing barriers, repositioning furniture to clear a path, and providing ramps or elevators as an alternative to stairs.

Communication

Businesses need to effectively communicate with customers with vision, hearing and/or speech disabilities. To do so, they might provide auxiliary aids and services for these individuals, especially for phone calls or website issues.

Sometimes, well-intentioned business policies can inadvertently discriminate against people with disabilities.

Policies

Sometimes, well-intentioned business policies can inadvertently discriminate against people with disabilities. Review your policies carefully and modify any section that might hinder access for someone with a disability. Additionally, depending on the accommodations needed, you might consider allowing exceptions to certain rules.

Service animals

As of 2011, ADA-recognized service animals only include dogs who are trained to work or perform tasks directly related to the individual’s disability. These dogs must be allowed to accompany their owners in “all areas of [a] facility where the public is normally allowed to go.”

As a business owner, you have the right to ask if the service dog is required because of a disability, and what task(s) the dog is trained to do. You may not, however, ask about the person’s disability, ask for documentation or identification cards, or ask that the dog demonstrate its ability to perform its tasks.

Mobility devices

Mobility devices, like Segways and golf carts, should be permitted unless deemed unsafe in the location. For instance, if the device is too large or fast, or the volume of traffic in the business is too high, you might not be required to allow them in your business.

How ADA compliance affects small businesses

From a legal standpoint, ADA compliance is important to protect your business from discrimination lawsuits. Public discrimination against someone with a disability may also cause irreversible damage to your reputation and turn potential customers or prospects away from your business.

ADA compliance can actually help your business. For example, your accessibility may give you an advantage over competitors who are less accommodating, and expenses and upgrades related to ADA compliance may even afford you a tax credit.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published April 26, 2019